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New remote control technology for forestry could save lives

Hon Jo Goodhew

Associate Minister for Primary Industries
8 August 2014

Media Statement
New remote control technology for forestry could save lives

Associate Primary Industries Minister Jo Goodhew says the results from a trial using remote control technology in tree felling, which could save lives in forestry harvesting operations, show promising results.

“During the successful trial the operator was able to successfully fell and bunch several trees from a safe distance at the top of a steep slope using a remote control device,” says Mrs Goodhew.

“Much of the forestry work in New Zealand is done on steep land. The use of remote control to operate machinery on steep land will essentially remove forestry workers from hazardous areas and prevent injuries and death—a valuable and critical step forward for the industry.”

The application of remote control technology to tree felling is believed to be a world first.

The new technology is being trialled in the Steepland Harvesting programme, which is part of the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Primary Growth Partnership (PGP). Its key aim is to improve safety and productivity in forestry harvesting operations.

The Steepland Harvesting programme, led by Future Forests Research Limited, worked with an innovative harvesting contractor in Nelson, Wood Contracting Nelson Limited, and researchers from Crown Research Institute Scion to integrate remote control technology into a commercial forest harvesting machine.

“With the successful trial completed, the programme is moving to the next stages of development which involves integrating the use of video and audio feedback to enable true tele-operation of forest harvesting machinery.

“This will enable operators to operate forestry machinery remotely, out of line-of-sight. Importantly, it will mean that forestry workers will no longer need to use chainsaws to fell trees on steep slopes.”

In addition to safety benefits mechanised tree harvesting in New Zealand’s steep terrain forests will also significantly reduce costs by improving productivity.

“The Steepland Harvesting programme has also made significant progress to date with the release of other exciting breakthroughs. These include the ClimbMAX harvester, a new ground-based harvesting machine which can fell and bunch logs on steep slopes.

“This harvester uses a computer controlled hydraulic winch system that helps with traction and mobility and allows the machine to operate safely on steep slopes. Four of these machines have been built and are now in commercial operation with a fifth under construction.

“A new camera system called CutoverCam has also been developed. It uses wireless camera technology to provide clear views of operations to hauler operators who no longer need to rely on radio messages and sound signals from ground crews, while a new HarvestNav on-board navigation system provides important information on harvest area terrain.

“These are exciting breakthroughs that mark significant steps towards ensuring forestry workers are kept out of harm’s way, and at the same time increase the productivity of forest harvesting operations.”

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