The digitalisation opportunities for sustainable forestry

Photo: Samuel Unéus

Access to high-resolution digital information is increasing rapidly. Today, both airborne and ground-based high-resolution laser scanning are used to depict the forest, almost down to the level of each centimeter. Digital maps are used for planning forest measures, and research is currently underway on semi-automatic and remote-controlled forestry machines.

High-quality information flows are an important basis for wise choices in forestry, and for the supply of raw materials. Thanks to digitalisation, we will be able to create systems that track the condition of the forest, and how it is developing both as an ecosystem and as a recreational area, while at the same time following individual trees from the forest to the industrial processes and finally the finished product. 

What research is needed? 

New methods are needed for the evaluation of databases, where the forest is described in grid boxes, or as individual trees. Among other things, methods using laser scanning, satellite images and data registered by harvesters, all need to be developed. In addition, improved planning support, and decision support for forestry, is needed. 

We also need further research into how digital solutions could facilitate felling planning, and how timber should best be transported out of the forest. By using high-resolution data about the forest, the work can be carried out more efficiently. This leads to increased productivity, reduced workload for foresters and shorter transports, as well as reduced fuel consumption. 
Thanks to digital tools and data, it becomes possible to make more precise life cycle analyses (LCA) and sustainability assessments, and also to measure and monitor biological diversity. In addition, another important area of ​​research concerns increasing growth rates in sustainably managed forests. 
In the Swedish Forestry Industry's research agenda 4.0, you can read more about the shared research and development needs of the forestry industry. 

Important research initiatives  

Swedish Forest Industries host the research programme Mistra Digital Forest, where industry and academia work together for increased digitalisation in the industry. The program works with several of the research areas listed above. Read more about Mistra Digital Forest here.