Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trees Talk To Satellites

If no one is in the forest, can you hear a tree fall? The answer is yes. Thanks to satellite communications, the forest industry is taking a whole new stand on how it harvests trees. Currently in the testing phase, this new method from the ESA combines satcoms and cellular services to relay important information almost immediately so less trees are used to produce a higher rate of timber. Timber? Timber!

The new system is called Satmodo and it was developed by an Irish company - Treemetrics. Working in cooperation with ESA, the communications line is now open between harvesting machines and their operators. Managers are now able to link to the computers inside the harvest vehicles via satellite and relay their instructions on how to cut and select trees to optimize their uses.

Why is it important to communicate as to what trees are cut and when? When it comes to trees - not all a created equal. Some trees are better used to create pulp - the stuff of paper - while others are best utilized as sawlogs. This type of timber is delivered to the sawmill and is far more valuable. What sets it apart? Sawlog trees have a larger diameter and less knots in their structure. Accidentally harvesting sawlogs for pulp results in wasting precious resources and reduces crop value.

Treemetrics is on the job. By employing 3D laser scanners to assist in measuring size, shape and straightness of standing trees, they are able to assess the value of a timber crop before harvesting. When an order is received, the information is turned into a "cut instruction" file which is relayed to the machine. This tells the operator how to harvest a select stand of trees in the forest. Until now, this information could only be sent via email, phone, or through verbal instructions. The process wasn't always an easy one. Information sent through email required manual entry into the vehicle's control computer and had to be uploaded each time a new file was needed.

Now, thanks to satcoms, ESA provides the missing link in the chain - Satmodo’s two-way realtime or near-realtime connection with the harvesting machines. There is no more waiting until the forest has been clear cut. By collecting the information on timber yield per hectare and passing the information back through Satmodo, the cutting instructions can take place on the spot - or be changed as needed. This keeps workers constantly informed in areas where terrestrially-based mobile communications just won't work. What's more, Satmodo also acts as a "safety net" for remote locations.

Consisting of a hybrid satellite/terrestrial wireless device, Satmodo is able to transmit data in real time via the new Inmarsat IsatM2M service. This is a two-way messaging route that not only empowers machine-to-machine tracking, but links them altogether - no matter how remote. This will create a fully integrated forestry management system connected together via satellite communications. Current plans for the Satmodo system includes installation into twenty harvesting machines.

Timber? Timber!

Reported by Tammy Plotner. Original Story Source: ESA News Release Image Credit: ESA.

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