Scion tree robot receives national recognition

Media Release
21 March 2014

A remote controlled tree-to-tree ‘swinging’ robot designed to improve the safety of steepland forestry has been recognised with a national engineering award from the Institution of Professional Engineers (IPENZ).

The device has been developed by Scion in partnership with the University of Canterbury, with funding received from Scion, Future Forests Research and the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Primary Growth Partnership programme.

Developer, Scion’s Dr Richard Parker, co-supervised four engineering students from the university to design and create a working prototype of the device, nicknamed the ‘Stick Insect’ due to the way it moves. Students George Wareing, Sean Bayley, Scott Paulin and Thomas Gilbert were presented with the Rey Meyer Medal at the IPENZ annual Fellows’ and Achievers’ Dinner in Christchurch on Friday 21 March, which is awarded to an individual or group of engineering students for best final-year project.

The tree-to-tree robot can be manoeuvred remotely between trees without it touching the ground using grippers attached to each of its two arms, providing a mobility platform for steepland forests that can eventually be used to perform tasks.

“The challenge is to develop a lightweight remote controlled machine that can move over steep, difficult and sensitive terrain without causing damage to the ground and yet tackle productive tasks cost-effectively,” says Dr Parker. “The students showed great engineering flair by creating, designing, assembling and testing the components and control systems into a final working device.

“We have been trialling it in the mechatronics and robotics laboratory at the university to better understand its operating capabilities and are now working to incorporate gadgets such as sensors for measuring tree diameter, and custom-built saws for felling.”

The students built the quarter-scale prototype as their final year research and development project, co-supervised by the university’s Dr Stefanie Gutschmidt (Academic Supervisor). Dr Parker is now working with PhD students from the university and Paul Milliken from Cutover Systems Ltd to develop instrumentation and software for the device.

“We envisage that we can eventually develop a whole family of tree-to-tree robots which can perform productive tasks in the forest, such as felling, pruning and measuring trees, perhaps even refuelling robots. Humans will still need to oversee their operation and maintenance, but they will be able to do so at a safe distance from hazardous, steepland operations.”