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Satellite and Drone Tech for Forest Surveillance

Image Credits: Flinders University, Press Release

Experts from Flinders University have secured a funding grant of nearly AU$ 1.4 million to enhance specialised satellite surveillance software and drone technology for a ground-breaking forestry research initiative. Over the course of two years, the College of Science and Engineering will conduct the project titled ‘Assessment of remote sensing techniques for monitoring the health of plantations.’ The research is financially supported by both federal and state governments through the Mount Gambier Centre of the National Institute for Forest Products Innovation (NIFPI).

Flinders University’s Associate Professor in Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), David Bruce, has outlined the objectives of the project aimed at enhancing plantation forestry surveillance. The research will involve the utilization of advanced ‘supercomputers’ to process satellite imagery, enabling early detection of underperforming trees for plantation foresters across Australia.

The project aims to identify various issues such as disease, waterlogging, inadequate management, drought, or storm damage by statistically comparing specific clusters of trees within the same age-class and species against the broader population.

In addition, the team plans to incorporate high-resolution satellite data collection to assess poorly performing tree patches and validate their analysis through low-altitude aerial observations using aircraft and drones in specific locations. This comprehensive approach will aid in developing a more effective early warning system for plantation health monitoring.

The Flinders University team comprises Associate Professor Bruce, an expert in remote sensing, and Marcio DaSilva, a PhD candidate who has previously been involved in satellite data collection related to the Kangaroo Island bushfires. Collaborating with computer programmer Michael Hillman, the team has dedicated over 18 months to testing algorithms on desktop computers.

Subsequently, they have progressed to experimenting with cloud computing environments in collaboration with experts from CSIRO. This iterative process has allowed them to refine and scale up their research methodologies effectively.

The AU$1.38 million research project involves collaboration with several key partners. These include experts from the Green Triangle Forest Health Group, NIFPI (National Institute for Forest Products Innovation), the Growers Research Advisory Committee, Forest Corporation NSW, the NSW Department of Primary Industries, UniSA (University of South Australia), as well as numerous forest companies in Australia. The project benefits from the diverse expertise and contributions of these partners.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that the latest round of grants has allocated a total of AU$ 6 million to support eight research projects. This underscores the significant investment being made in advancing research initiatives across various domains.

The Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry emphasised that the funding provided for the third round of projects, amounting to AU$6 million, will not only support ongoing research careers in the forest and wood products sectors but also contribute to the development of future forestry jobs.

These projects are expected to play a crucial role in promoting innovation across various areas, including forest management, worker safety, advanced remote sensing, forest water use, tree breeding genetics, and optimising resource utilisation. The aim is to explore these domains and facilitate advancements that will have a positive impact on the forestry industry and its stakeholders.

In the October Federal Budget of 2022-2023, a significant commitment of AU$ 100 million over a span of five years was made to enhance and expand the National Institute for Forest Products Innovation (NIFPI) throughout Australia. The allocated funds are intended to support research and development endeavours aimed at addressing the national challenges faced by the forest and wood products industries. This substantial investment reflects the government’s recognition of the importance of these sectors and their potential to contribute to the country’s economic growth and sustainability.


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