Sean Krisanski is developing a flying robot to collect samples from the forest canopy, research that earned him the Forest & Wood Products Australia Award at this week’s Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Currently, collecting samples from the canopy involves hiring an arborist to climb trees and trim the branches with a saw – work that is expensive, time-consuming and possibly dangerous.
The University of Tasmania mechanical engineer wants to develop a drone with a saw attached that can fly into the canopy and collect a sample.
One of the major challenges is making sure the drone can tolerate collisions. “I will be designing a 3D-printed airframe which will protect the rotors and make the system fairly robust to the inevitable collisions with branches, with a small saw integrated into the airframe for the actual cutting,” he said.
As part of his PhD research, Sean has already built several drones that fly under the tree canopy to undertake remote sensing—using lasers and cameras to create 3D maps of the forest. He has also previously built a drone to map dangerous areas in underground mines.
“There’s a lot of research that you simply can’t afford to do because it’s hard to justify paying someone to climb a single tree just to get a small branch or leaf sample and collecting samples from hundreds of trees is not really a practical option,” he said.
He will be collaborating with other researchers in the forestry sector as well as with forestry companies for field trials.