Tree-felling robot nabs design award

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014
robot Tarzan
SUPPLIED
I'M A LUMBERJACK: University of Canterbury’s Dr Stefanie Gutschmidt and Scion’s Dr Richard Parker supervised a group of engineering students who created a robot Tarzan, designed to fell trees on steep terrain.

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A robot "Tarzan" has netted a group of Canterbury engineering students a national engineering award.

On Friday night the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand presented the Rey Meyer Medal to the design team for the tree-to-tree robot, which will eventually be used to fell trees on steep terrain.

Scott Paulin, Sean Bayley, Thomas Gilbert and George Wareing were presented with the award made annually for the best university or polytechnic student engineering project.

They were supervised by University of Canterbury engineering lecturer Dr Stefanie Gutschmidt and Scion's Dr Richard Parker.

The idea of a robotic Tarzan came from staff at Scion, the Crown research institute which looks after forest research.

Gutschmidt said the idea was to design a robot which could move from tree to tree as a way of navigating through forests, particularly for harvesting trees in tricky terrain.

"Steep-slope robotic felling would result in a significant improvement to the safety and efficiency of forestry harvesting in New Zealand," she said.

The robot would avoid disturbing soil and would not get tangled in shrubs and other obstacles.

"The students just flew with it. They designed working wrists and grippers and made sure it was light enough to support itself and operated wirelessly by laptop," Parker said.

A quarter-scale model of the robot was made and tested in a simulated forestry environment.

"It's actually beautiful," Parker said. "It looks very elegant."

A PhD student has now taken over the controls and is working to improve the system. Other students are developing a saw system which would enable the robot to fell trees.

The Canterbury team were joint winners of the award, along with Wellington student Anthony Muir, from Wellington Institute of Technology.

Muir won for designing a system for managing peak flows from extreme rain events in urban areas.

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- The Press

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