Category Archives: Robotics

Tree climbing robots in forestry

Richard Parker

Richard Parker is a Senior Scientist at Scion in Christchurch.  His research focuses on difficult, dangerous and essential occupations such as forest harvesting and rural fire fighting from the perspectives of human factors and technology.  

Richard is involved in the development of novel robots for forest operations and the human factors of forest work. He was a tree faller and breaker out in a former life.  He is also leads research on rural fire fighter performance and new technologies for fire detection and suppression and is a volunteer rural firefighter.

Delegates at LandWISE 2017: are we ready for automation? will hear Richard say that robotics is inevitable in forestry as specialised machines for forest tasks are developed.  The mining industry already has a history of robot development and automation and forestry is learning from their experience. However, forestry has particular challenges – much of the commercially forested land in New Zealand is on steep and remote terrain. 

Forest harvesting operations have been traditionally considered physically demanding and potentially dangerous, with forest workers on foot exposed to heavy and fast-moving trees, logs and machinery.  Many tasks in forestry have already been mechanised to reduce hazards to the worker and increase productivity.  For example, the axe was replaced by the chainsaw, which was replaced by the excavator based harvesting machine.  However large machines can damage the sensitive forest soils and cannot work on steep terrain where many forest grow.  This presentation will discuss the next stage of forest machine development which uses the standing trees for support.

Animals have lived in the trees for millions of years and have developed behavioural, structural and physiological adaptations to the arboreal environment.  Some animals move slowly from branch-to-branch like the stick insect.  Others, such as gibbons, can move rapidly using brachiation, engaging in the arboreal equivalent of running through the forest from branch to branch.  An opportunity exists to use this form of locomotion, although more slowly than gibbons, for the movement of forestry machinery. 

The proposed machine could always stay above ground moving from tree-to-tree using the trees for support. The machine would eliminate the problem of soil disturbance and would not be limited by terrain steepness.

Bottle Lake Trial Robot

With funding from Scion, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Forest Growers Levy Trust, the concept of a tree-to-tree forestry machine became real.  Scion and University of Canterbury Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics students built a working radio controlled tree-to-tree locomotion machine. Development of a real machine demonstrated that being independent of the ground makes operator control easier because the ground conditions (holes, rocks, loose soil) do not have to be adjusted for.