Investment in autonomous forestry machines

SCA is participating in a comprehensive project to develop autonomous forestry machines. The goal is to make things easier for operators and ultimately to be able to control forwarders from an office.

The forest industry is now entering into the development of automated work tasks. With the Auto2 project, the forest industry wants to use the technology to develop autonomous forwarders – the machines that carry the harvested timber to the forest road.

Auto2 will begin by focusing on the machines themselves, giving them the capability to plan their driving, move through the terrain and make sure that there is a safety zone around the machine so that no one is injured.

“The long-term vision is entirely self-driving machines, but I hope that we’ll see short-term effects with the system that make it easier for operators to do a good job. It can be compared with a self-driving car – someone still needs to sit in it but does not need to actively steer,” explained Magnus Bergman, head of technology and operational development at SCA, and continues:

“The area of autonomous vehicles is exciting, but also a tough development area because the forest environment is very complex. A major and important question is of course the safety aspects, because the harvesting area isn’t enclosed. What happens, for example, when a person or an animal enters the work area? Such issues and many more need to be resolved. But the Swedish forest industry leads the world in developing equipment for harvesters and forwarders, so I really believe in this.”

Many advantages

The project is led by Skogforsk (Forestry Research Institute of Sweden) and when the sensor controls and security systems are ready, the next step is the possibility of using remote control. In the future, it may be possible to control machines from the cabin or the office. There are many advantages to such a scenario, claims Magnus.

“Without a cab, for example, the machines will be lighter and more efficient because they’ll have more room for timber. Moreover, the machine operators will be working in a much better environment, where the risk of accidents such as trips and falls is drastically reduced. It may also be easier to recruit new operators when they know they can work from an office with their colleagues instead of working alone out in the forest.”

The project will extend over three years, and Vinnova and the forest industry together have financed the project with SEK 20 million. Several companies and universities are also participating in the project.

“SCA is participating as a financier and in the reference group, where we can contribute with our knowledge, and if sufficient progress is made, we will also be able to offer test environments in our forests,” concludec Magnus.