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Autonomous pruning: the future of forest management

3 June 2022

With anticipated future innovations, this type of technology could be used to support bushfire risk management, improve the economic value of the nation’s timber resource, and overcome occupational health and safety risks.

The recently completed report, A review of current mechanical & robotic tree pruning equipment, was developed by the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Forest Research Institute (FRI) and international research partners.

“In recent years, increased interest has been expressed by Australian plantation forest managers in the potential use of mechanical or robotic tree pruning systems,” said lead author Mark Brown, Professor of Forestry Operations at USC and Director of the Forest Industry Research Centre, who led the review.

“Meanwhile, Australian researchers agree there could be potential value in importing and testing specific commercial solutions, or even designing and developing specific solutions domestically.”

Before committing to significant financial investment in this space, FWPA commissioned an independent global review of mechanical tree pruning technologies currently being used in plantation forest management, as well as the prospective development of future technologies both domestically and internationally.

A technical desktop review was used to inform the report, alongside a review of academic literature published in the last five years and industry journals published in the last two years. Information was collected on each identified system of interest, covering capabilities and performance, while considering stem and branch size, height, tree age, species, trees per hour and the impact of gradient.

Equipment was also compared for technological readiness, capital and operating costs, range of application, and the general strengths and weaknesses for potential use in the Australian setting.

“While the mechanics of these inventions have improved, the agility and range of application are still limited, in particular when applied to radiata pines,” said co-author of the report Dr Sam Van Holsbeeck, a research fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast who worked closely with Brown on the review.

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The full report can be found by visiting www.fwpa.com.au/resources

Source: FWPA R&D Works

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