From koala identification to smart software … the many ways FWPA’s voluntary matched funding supports industry advancement

FWPA’s voluntary matched funding initiative works to strengthen the research capacity of the forestry industry, by supporting some of the most innovative scientific projects in the field. Over the past three years, the calibre and quantity of supported projects has demonstrated the value of the initiative.

Voluntary matched funding has continued to allow FWPA to support the development of revolutionary technologies, by providing up to 1:1 matched funding against the cash commitments of external investors in support of project proposals.

Since launching in 2016 the initiative has been extremely well received by industry, with its funding cap consistently reached. A total of $9.01M was invested in RD&E projects over the first three years, with this work serving to significantly increase the industry’s technical capacity.

In 2020, 100 per cent of the available $3.318M in funding is set to be allocated. Half of this is contributed by industry and half ($1.659M) is matched by the Commonwealth Government. There have been 20 active projects so far in 2020 that have benefited from the scheme.

The projects supported by voluntary matched funding are diverse in scope. Here is a summary of a handful of key research initiatives that have thrived under the scheme.

Using drones to identify koalas in the forest

The first steps were taken towards the development of a koala identification platform using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and infrared (IR) cameras. Testing found the system had the potential to be used cost-effectively and with minimum in-field personnel, while at the same time improving safety and animal welfare.

Kingfisher Data Services conducted koala location trials in the Bessiebelle forest area in western Victoria. Various settings, heights and image overlaps were conducted, and the data was sent to the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) for processing. This was then used for the development of an algorithm, with a view to allowing computer identification of koala locations and generating coordinates for forest operators in real time.

During the trials, several settings and processes were developed that enabled koalas to be successfully located and the system to be demonstrated. Overall, the platform allowed in-field operations to be conducted by two in-field personnel, and each one-hectare could be monitored by one eight-minute flight.

More work would be required to make the technology operational and to commercialise it, with particular attention needed to further develop the algorithm. Ultimately, the researchers hope a future version of the technology could provide a quick and affordable solution to koala identification prior to harvesting.

New business models to inspire future investment in plantations

An estimated 500,000 ha of new softwood plantations is required to meet the increase in domestic timber demand for housing by 2045. Local and export demand for hardwood timber has also been growing strongly. However, a lack of new investment in plantations could see Australia relying on an increasing amount of timber imports.

Considerable areas of Australian farmland exist whereby planting forests would not only yield financial, social and environmental benefits for the forestry industry, but also for agriculture. A research project led by Professor Rod Keenan at the University of Melbourne has therefore developed and tested a number of new business models for commercial tree plantations that would be of benefit to the timber industry, rural landowners and investors.

The business models were designed in collaboration with industry, as well as rural landowners after analysing their needs and past experiences with tree investment in different regions. The models consider carbon, biodiversity and water, and it is hoped they will inspire and enable new partnerships between forest growers and the agricultural sector, inspiring an increased investment in plantations for the future.

Reports from the project can be found here, and for further information interested parties can contact Professor Rod Keenan,

Software launched for the Automated Calculation Routines of mid-rise timber structures

A structural engineering software specific to mid-rise timber construction in Australia was developed through a 12-month collaborative project between FWPA, MiTek, Pryda, Rothoblaas, TimberTech, Wesbeam and XLam.

New routines were added to the TimberTech Buildings package, originally developed in Europe to offer high-speed modelling and calculations to the construction industry. The Australian version has been made freely available to the construction industry and aligns with all necessary Australian Codes and Standards.

The project represents a collaborative approach to the design of an efficient offsite prefabricated solution for mid-rise timber-based systems, made available for structural engineers. Following its release, the construction industry will now benefit from an informed and detailed understanding of technical and market-related issues, opportunities and solutions, with the goal of increased usage of timber products in mid-rise construction.

Following completion six months ago, FWPA remained on-hand to support those who downloaded the software with additional training and educational seminars, while also collating feedback to improve the technology. Now, it has well and truly been embraced by industry and is being used in the day-to-day operations of a number of structural engineers.

You can find out more about the software by visiting