The magic of VR … changing inventory management as we know it

The forestry industry has been invited to trial and provide feedback on new virtual reality (VR) technology that could revolutionise how field inventory practices are managed.

Attendees at November’s ForestTECH conference were treated to an exclusive presentation of the new technology, which can be used to perform some tree stem assessments.

Once deployable, industry benefits could include improved worker safety, better access to hard-to-reach areas, and reduced labour costs.

During a presentation by David Herries, General Manager of Interpine Innovation, delegates learned about an FWPA-supported project led by the University of Tasmania. The research team used high-density Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data acquired by helicopters to investigate the potential of VR to replace current forest inventory fieldwork practices.

So far, the project has taken data captured from a pre-harvest Pinus radiata inventory plot and successfully imported it into an immersive VR environment, using commercially available hardware. The design was further developed using the results of extensive user testing and feedback, undertaken in collaboration with several industry partners, including field operators themselves.

This testing demonstrated all participants had the capacity to work within the VR environment. Most were able to successfully use the associated tools and take basic measurements, including diameter and height, within a reasonable timeframe.

However, more complex measurements relating to features inside the canopy — including wobble, sweep type, stem damage and branch size — were not as accurate.

Lead Researcher, Dr Winyu Chinthammit, of the University of Tasmania’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory, said the team was excited to have unveiled the first iteration of the new technology to industry, bringing it one step closer to becoming operational.

“We are looking forward to gathering industry feedback from those who experiment with it now it is readily available. Because the technology is still very much at the experimental stage and is not fully operational as yet, we’re relying on companies with innovation ingrained into their culture to get involved,” Dr Chinthammit said.

The next steps involve a proposal for funding to refine the features of the technology, in line with industry user feedback, as well as addressing some of the issues experienced when using VR to visualise the canopy area of a tree.

“Going forward, we plan to use more advanced visualisation and rendering, in combination with machine learning techniques, to determine how the data can be used to give a more detailed structural view of the canopy,” Dr Chinthammit said.

“We’re also looking at more affordable and accessible options for industry, in order to maximise uptake once the technology does become operational. One option we’re exploring is transferring our virtual environments to new ‘stand alone’ VR headset platforms. This would provide a much less expensive set-up than the equipment currently required to use this technology, and has the potential to lead to increased industry uptake.”

The VR forest inventory software application is now available for trial by the industry. Interested parties can email to obtain a download link, which will provide full access to the new VR software.

See report here.