Forest Rangers and Woodpile Scanners: About smart forestry: Adlershof start-up VINS 3D develops digital scanners for measurement and inventory

25. April 2019

Forest Rangers and Woodpile Scanners: About smart forestry

Adlershof start-up VINS 3D develops digital scanners for measurement and inventory

Tom Thiele, VINS © WISTA Management GmbH

Good with trees: Tom Thiele studied Forest Information Technology. Credit: © WISTA Management GmbH

“Long-term forestry is unthinkable if the timber supply from our forests is not calculated with sustainability in mind.” In his treatise on the taxation of the forests, the forest scientist Georg Ludwig Hartig coined the now heavily overused term “sustainability” as early as the late 18th century. Modern foresters still take stock of trees and their use as timber wood much the same way as they did during Hartig’s times: on foot and by hand. The Adlershof-based start-up VINS is out to change this – using sensors, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.

What is now commonplace in the industrial sector, is becoming more relevant in forestry: digital solutions. They may help with forest inventory and supply chain and emergency procedures to wood measurements, navigation and wildlife observation. The forests are not only a natural habitat but also an economic factor. Accurate and conclusive data on the state of forests and timber resources are the foundation of modern and sustainable forestry.

Aptly named, the cloud-like scanner image is called a point cloud. With some imagination, one can make out the outlines of a tree. The image depicts a collection of raw data which itself has little information value. Tom Thiele and his co-founder Till Westberg set out to put these data to good use. Thiele studied forest information technology and founded the company VINS 3D with his partner Westberg. The company develops products and technologies for transforming data overload into readings and useful insight.

“Sensors nowadays collect great amounts of data – in forestry, too. Faced with such large amounts, editing and transforming them into useful information by hand is impossible,” explains Thiele.

The first VINS product is a scanner with self-developed sensors system and data processing algorithm, which is currently being tested at a large forestry operation. VINS scanners can now do what had previously been randomly counted, identified, measured, located, and later digitalised by so-called forest assessors. The customer receives a map of the forest that contains all the relevant data, including the species, measurement, amount, and location of trees.

According to Thiele, localisation was a major challenge. The denser a piece of forest is, the more the treetops interfere with the satellite-based navigation system GPS. The VINS scanner resorts to indoor navigation technologies to be more independent of satellites. Development was helped along by a cooperation with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The start-up is located in the Gründerhaus Adlershof of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

The VINS scanner is now also used on woodpiles. Those piles of timber collected at a specific location in the woods comprise logs of all shapes and sizes, which are also measured in a time-honoured way: foresters use a spray can to mark the measuring points – on every single trunk, if necessary. They then climb over the piles, while handling two to three-metre-long dipsticks, and then measure the diameter of selected trunks using a special calliper called a cruising rod. Using optical measurement technology, the VINS scanner simply measures the length of the front of the trunks and then extrapolates data on timber quantity from that.

“Intelligent, precise, and up-to-date data,” says Thiele, “and here comes the kicker: we put both the forest and the woodpile scanners in one device.” However, the company does not want to limit itself to forestry. “Our scanners can potentially be used anywhere where measurements require location, be it logistics processes in industrial plants or object detection in a road and traffic environment.”

By Rico Bigelmann for Adlershof Journal

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