Engineers developing robotic skidder and forwarders

Friday 25 May 2018

With the support of Forest Wood Products Australia (FWPA) and Forest Growers Research (FGR), two small teams of University of Canterbury Engineering students have been working on developing ideas for next generation autonomous extraction machines. The Forest Engineering students (Georgie Holdaway, Toby Bell and James Ma) have looked into the cut-over operating environment and explored ideas as to what a robotic extraction might look like.

The drawing shown (by Seamus Bardoul) is effectively a skidder capable of extracting trees, with the vision that a logging operation would have multiple units that extract the stems from a manned feller-buncher that fells and loads, and autonomously brings them back to the landing for processing.

“You can see by the design that such robotic skidder would be very manoeuvrable, without the need for a cab have very low centre of gravity for stability, and with the stems being held in clam-bunk manner directly over the drive wheels have excellent traction capability”, says their supervisor Prof Rien Visser. The second group with Mechanical and Mechatronic students (Jordan Treanor, Alex Hartley, Grant Harvey and Brendon May) have designed and are already building an autonomous model forwarder prototype.

“The goal here is here is proof of concept, and the real challenge will be in developing the guidance system that proves a machine can navigate itself through a forest environment” says Visser. Such a navigation system could then be installed into an existing forwarder, with the operator being able rest and relax as the forwarder drives itself to and from the landing. That team is also being mentored by Prof XiaoQi Chen who specialises in mechatronic applications and has been involved in a number of FGR projects.

“It is great to see these young engineers getting involved in equipment design, it bodes well for additional equipment manufacturing opportunities and innovation that will link the next generation of forest engineers with mechatronic disciplines and skills coming out of Australasia in the near future”, says FWPA R&D manager Chris Lafferty.

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