Story | 01/13/2020 09:36:43 | 5 min Read time

Tree-G – forests of the future

The implementation of the latest digital technology is changing the way the forestry industry works. But how do you digitalise a tree?

In Finland, over 600 000 private forest owners look after a combined 22 billion trees. With an average of 30 hectares per owner, the need to embrace and utilise digital advancements that the industry is now able to offer is crucial. In other words, forests are getting a cyber makeover.

Applications are offering additional knowledge to forest owners - particularly those who want help making decisions that will affect the future of their forest estate. Nearly 40 000 forest owners have already shown an interest in using the UPM Metsä app to keep track of their assets.

This service is just one of a number of innovations based on the Finnish Forest Centre’s open forest data, which covers more than four fifths of the country’s forest area and has been collected through laser scanning and field surveys.

“The app was launched three years ago for new forest owners and urban people unfamiliar with their forests. All you need is a property identifier from the National Land Survey website. It is public information based on laser scanning. Utilising the UPM app, you can then examine your forests and learn their estimated current value. It then recommends actions you can take, while you can also contact UPM for more details and offers,” enthuses Tomi Simola, Director, Processes and Systems, at UPM Forest.

Another digital application tailored for forest owners is the web service. Here, it is possible to sell wood, order silviculture work, browse and investigate forests’ stands, and compare actions and their resulting effects – all in one place and from the comfort of your own home. A dedicated personal forest expert is also available on request to offer advice on issues such as silviculture and different felling options.

Digitalisation for all

This essential and abundant data is benefitting everyone, from forest owner and decision makers to the forestry workers on the ground at the forefront of the industry. For them, digital application and artificial intelligence offer an extra pair of eyes and hands.

“Some areas may prove, for example, to be so swampy that they are accessible by forestry machines only during winter. New forestry applications can recommend optimal routes and help drivers to make better and quicker decisions. All this increases the efficiency of their work,” explains Simola.

Forest machinery equipped with sensors can identify individual trees, their shape, length and width. “The compiled data, together with what we know about the overall quality of the soil and growth environment, helps us when it comes to reforestation and what trees we should plant in the future. For example, AI may suggest pines instead of spruce. Beforehand, us humans had to make such decisions on our own,” Simola elaborates. However, while available, the use of such equipment is not yet widespread.

Only the beginning

There is every reason to believe that we are currently witnessing the first, tentative steps of what digitalisation has to offer. In November 2019, a group of forest companies, including UPM, research institutes and some twenty digital companies, launched a two-year project known as SEED - a EUR 7 million project funded mainly by Business Finland.

The aim of the project, led by the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), is to spur innovations and create digital solutions. Forest companies will open their doors and invite IT and design companies to utilise facilities and processes as platforms. Ideally, it will become a win-win situation; IT players can come up with new competitive applications and forest companies can benefit from new concepts, ranging from production to maintenance and communication.

Another piece in the digital environment jigsaw will be the more extensive use of satellites circling round the earth at a height of 500-700 kilometres. That is the firm belief of Joni Norppa of Terramonitor, a company specialising in artificial intelligence and data processing.

“The number of satellites will multiply. In a sense, one could say they are unbeatable, as they can send pictures instantaneously without delay. Secondly, delivery happens repeatedly and systematically. Their use is also relatively cheap compared to aerial photography or field surveys, which are slow and done in long cycles,” explains Norppa.

UPM is well aware of the possibilities rising from the new space economy cluster. But, in the name of mutual benefit, companies like Terramonitor are also challenging the forest industry to take further advantage of the amount of easily accessible data.

Further, crucial global aspects, such as unlawful fellings and forest fires, can be spotted and easily dealt with accordingly, while maps will be updated constantly without delay. However, according to Norppa, the most significant element satellites can bring is timing.

In Finland, the tending of seedling stands is very professional, but requires physical expeditions in the form of field surveys. If forests are left unkempt for too long, they become dense and the trees grow in both height and width. Data analysed from satellite pictures can therefore define the best moment for this practice – known as thinning.

There can be no doubt that the winds of digital change are blowing through the forests of Finland. However, both the industry and forest owners are embracing this step into the future to ensure it is mutually beneficial for all concerned.


Text: Pekka Vänttinen

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