Teleharvester on way to getting boots off the slope

Published Forestry Bulletin 20 October 2016

Progress was on display in Nelson recently for what may so far be the world's only true remote controlled tree feller buncher.

 The John Deere 909 is operated from a nearby cabin with full duplicate controls and three video screens which select from four video cameras mounted in strategic points on the feller. They give a live feed-back to the operator, who doesn't need a line of sight to the machine.

The Future Forests Research Primary Growth Partnership Project for the Steepland Harvesting Programme began with feasibility studies in 2011 under Future Forest Research. Funding initially came from industry and the Primary Growth Partnership fund and more recently was supported by the forest growers levy.

A driving force behind the project has been Ross Wood of Wood Contracting Nelson, who recognised that as timber terrain got steeper there was a need to develop remote-controlled technology to give workers a safer working platform. Such technology is used in the mining industry, but not yet in forestry.

Not only will the operator be safely removed from the perils of working on a slope, but in future felling machines can be built without the need for a cab at all, which increases stability and reduces both fuel consumption and soil compaction.

Operator time is reduced as well. Ultimately the operator may be able to drive a feller from a completely distant location saving travelling time to the site.

One tweak the operators would like is a 'full sensation' feedback from the machine, so they can feel their way around a tree as well as being able to see it on their screens.

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