By ARMAN KAZEMI
July 24, 2014
Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, have received their fair share of publicity both for their military and surveillance applications. But in Canada, UAVs are being put to use for less ominous purposes.
Last week, the Hinton Parklander reported that Canada’s FPInnovations, one of the world’s largest private, non-profit forest research firms, is field-testing UAVs in Hilton, Altera for commercial forestry applications.
These tests are part of a larger project “being conducted across Canada to validate the application of drones in forestry,” the report stated.
In February, FPInnovations acquired a drone for $150,000 to cruise across areas of Alberta either too costly or too inefficient to be accessed by manned vessels.
“Companies have shown quite a bit of interest in the drone’s application to replace some of the surveys that are done now,” says Denis Cormier, research leader for FPInnovation’s Civil-Cultural Operation and Biomass Programs.
These surveys include the use of aerial imaging and 3D modeling to measure stock volume and inventory, as well as enhance fire and risk prevention strategies.
To do this, UAVs used in forestry, like the one being tested in Alberta, are optimized with thermal cameras to measure heat and dryness levels in wooded areas. Similar UAV applications have been developed in other countries where forestry is a major industry.
According to a BBC report last May, startups in Finland’s forestry industry have been testing the potentials of this new technology to expedite forestry data analysis exponentially.
The founders of Finland’s Sharper Shape suggest that UAVs “could reduce utility company costs by up to 50%” in a country about 70 per cent of which is covered by trees.
“And because the system is fully automated,” the BBC report continues, “that data analysis that would normally take five months to complete can be done by a machine in a week.”
Even if agricultural drones where ready tomorrow for commercial use, their theoretical boon here would be limited by Transport Canada’s strict UAV legislation.
In Canada, commercial and research drones are restricted to “line-of-sight” use, so that any unmanned aircraft must be visible to its “pilot” at all times while airborne.
This severely limits the UAVs’ full potential for surveying and gathering information across large areas of forest, suggesting that “they won’t be replacing planes and helicopters used to survey large patches of land just yet.”
All the same, as the efforts of FPInnovations and others indicate, researchers will continue investing in UAV technology to improve forest management. The only real hurdle might be for relevant legislation to catch up.