Automation in forestry : development of unmanned forwarders

Sammanfattning: For the last 50 year, forestry operations have become more and more mechanized. In modern forestry in Europe two machines are typically used; a harvester that fells, debranches and cross-cuts the trees into logs and a forwarder that transports them to the nearest road. These machines are technically advanced and quite expensive, but have a very high production rate. In fact, the productivity is so high that the human operator risks becoming a bottleneck if the machines become even more efficient. One way of solving this is to change working methods such that some work tasks are not needed anymore. In this way, efficiency is improved without increasing the workload. Another way to solve the problem is to develop (semi-)autonomous vehicles. One part of the work described in this thesis is an analysis of the economical performance of four potential systems based on the concept of integrated loading. Two of these systems use autonomous forest machines. Results from simulations with large amounts of real forest data show that a promising system is an autonomous forwarder switching loads with a manned harwarder, a combination of harvester and forwarder. Autonomous forwarders able to do the same work as conventional forwarders would be even more profitable than any of the other systems analyzed in this study.The development of techniques and algorithms for autonomous navigation of forwarders that transport logs from the harvesting site to the nearest transportation road is a major part of the thesis. A novel path-tracking algorithm is introduced that is able to accurately guide a forest machine along a previously demonstrated path with high accuracy. To avoid obstacles, the VFH+ algorithm was modified to work on forest machines. However, tests with a forwarder showed that this algorithm performs unsatisfactory when there are narrow passages to negotiate with obstacles close to both sides of the vehicle. This led us to develop a real-time path-planner for off-road vehicles using a simulator to predict collisions in a window forward in time. The path-planner is able to safely navigate a forest machine around obstacles on and close to the path in a way that is hard or impossible to achieve with regular obstacle-avoidance algorithms that do not take the shape of the vehicle into account. To handle a multitude of sensors, actuators, and other hardware in a systematic and uniform way and to enable communication between software modules, a software framework (often called robotics middleware) was developed. The system can be distributed over a network of computers if some software modules require more computing power. The framework has shown to be a powerful tool for research and development of autonomous vehicles.A problem in forestry operations is wheel slip causing ground damage and reducing trafficability of forest machines. Using data collected during experiments with the autonomous forest machine, a method for measuring slip was developed. It can be used to detect excessive wheel slip and may ultimately be used to control the machine transmission to reduce the amount of slip.