October 30, 2009 Vol. 2, Issue 10
German scientists are using satellite technology to create a virtual forest that facilitates better forest management practices.
Jrgen Rossmann, Michael Schluse, and Arno Bücken from RWTH Aachen University Institute of Man-Machine Interaction in Germany have integrated satellite navigation technology, virtual reality, aerial remote sensing maps, and robotics to produce a virtual map—called the Virtual Forest—of a forest in located in the North Rhine-Wesphalia (NRW) region in Germany.
By themselves, satellite GPS systems arent accurate enough to triangulate individual trees, but they can narrow down a region to roughly 20-30 meters. However, this data combined with data from remote sensing and conventional maps narrows down the accuracy to 50 centimeters. With the assistance of the European Space Agency’s Galileo satellite system, initial position estimates of individual trees improve, and uncertainty decreases.
This technology enabled forestry personnel to individually identify each of the 240 million trees within the NRW forest region. Each tree is assigned its own individual digital “business card” detailing its species, age, height, health, and market value. Additionally, the business card tracks chronological data by time stamping and logging information over time.
The Virtual Forest facilitates more efficient tree harvesting, optimized wood production, and lowers overall costs. Virtual computer systems can guide logging equipment from one tree to the next accurately, eliminating the need for the time-consuming activity of individually tagging and then searching for trees. It also decreases confusion among landowners concerned with tracking which trees are felled in small, privately owned parts of the forest.
While the virtual forest offers a number of benefits, scientists acknowledge in a paper that virtual reality “can never substitute a real walk in the woods, but they can help to better understand how to sensibly use, preserve, and protect it.”
The Virtual Forest won the NRW 2008 European Satellite Navigation Competition supported by the European Space Agency Technology Transfer Programme Office in June 2009.
Read more about the Virtual Forest (PDF).