By Dylan Love
Called Forester, this robot uses a technique called “sounding” to help arborists identify sick trees and diagnose them.
After hearing a radio program describe the labor-intensive work of forest pathologists — basically, tree doctors — Maksim Mikhailov had an idea: what if a robot helped collect their data?
Mikhailov is a 16-year-old student at ITMO University, the renowned science and technology institution in St. Petersburg, Russia. As a member of the school’s Youth Robotics Lab, he was perfectly positioned to bring his idea to life. With a full team working on the the project, the robot won the gold medal at last year’s World Robot Olympiad; it can record tree locations within a forest, identify their species, measure the widths of their trunks, and even identify if a tree is healthy or not.
Its name is Forester, and most of its job is to explore forests and hit trees with its mallet. It’s a robotic adaptation of a technique that human tree experts often use, called “sounding,” to help their appraisal of a tree’s health.
“The robot hits a tree and its microphone records the sound,” Mikhailov explained. “Since sick trees have cavities or low wood density in their trunk, they make a sound with a lower overall frequency than that of a healthy tree.” The robot makes use of an algorithm that analyzes the recorded sound to determine if it came from a healthy tree.
Forester also takes a photograph of the tree and feeds the image to a neural network, identifying 12 different species of trees with accuracy better than 90 percent.