Sherwood Forest has been home to people since the last ice age, so around 10,000 years ago, and has resulted in a rich, varied and vibrant culture. The regular monitoring and assessment of health indicators in a forest environment greatly helps the protection and preservation of the forest ecosystem
In order to ensure that the forest habitat is protected and maintained for future generations to enjoy the Robotic Environmental Management research area will focus on three areas:
- Robot forest rangers
- Forest management system
- Health of the forest sensing system
Analysis of various regions of the forest are performed by human forest rangers for the purpose of monitoring, inspection and gathering of sample data. The process of forest monitoring is typically regarded as highly labour-intensive, costly and time-consuming to conduct. The 5G Connected Forest project proposes the deployment of robot forest rangers to support data collection. This will be achieved by deploying ground and aerial robots onboard with state of the art sensors. The robotic rangers will monitor the health of various regions in the forest, where indicators are inspected, and high definition data is collected and either stored or transmitted over the 5G network. The robotic forest rangers will operate in two forms: the first is airborne robotic forest rangers, which will patrol protected and inaccessible regions of the forest, and the second is ground robotic forest rangers who will patrol the open access regions of the forest. It is common practice for human forest rangers to guide visitors in forest tours, however with the number of visitors increasing, so does the duties and responsibilities of said rangers. Therefore, as well as assisting the human forest rangers in monitoring the forest the robotic version will assist with guided forest tours and free up human rangers time.
Unlike a forest ranger which is the ‘eyes on the ground’ for collecting data, the forest manager is someone who oversees work for the preservation of the forest such as conservation of trees, habitat, species and environment. Through the use of 5G infrastructure the forest manager system can assist the job of a forest manager in Sherwood Forest and related sites. The two use cases being assessed within this section are to provide emergency forest services for public safety and convenience and assist in search and rescue operations. One of the most important duties of the forest manager is to ensure public safety within the forest by dealing with emergencies. Such emergencies as storms and injuries within the forest could be supported more effectively if the time required to detect and respond is minimised. When the forest has been affected by a storm for example, it can take the forest manager several days to gather the necessary information regarding the damage caused and to react to it. Through the deployment of drones to inaccessible areas you can get there sooner, as well as geolocation tracking using GPD coordinates to track the locations of the damage. Although drones have been used for the detection of several disasters the use of 5G technology will provide real-time solutions for the assessment of damages. Historically if a person roaming the forest lost their way the common practice for rescuing them is by a manual search process conducted by forest rangers. This process is tedious and time-consuming and it is often very difficult to locate and track the progress of the person in the forest due to the dense trees. Due to the freedom of mobility, drones can be used to assist for searching for those lost in the forest, when fitted with the right sensors. For example, thermal cameras can detect human or living creatures in the forest. The forest management system will provide an interface for the forest manager to access the data gathered by various robotic forest rangers and react more effectively.
Global forest health is on the decline due to issues such as climate change, air pollution and increased human activities. One of the key attributes of a healthy forest system is its ability to recover from disturbances, such as hot droughts, susceptibility to fire, forest degradation and deforestation. There is however no single measurement that can be captured to tell us if a forest is healthy or not since forests are continually changing. As Sherwood Forest is a protected heritage site you cannot deploy intrusive sensing devices on trees and within the environment as this could damage the area in question. Through remote sensing this can be overcome by using several techniques to remotely measure different physical properties of the trees. By utilising the 5G technology it can be harnessed to provide a high-throughput and low-latency communication platform that enables the gathering, transmission and processing of a large and mixed-variety of health of the forest data which will in turn inform further decision making and possible intervention by those responsible for the forest. The health of the forest use cases will look specifically at data collecting and AI learning relating to plant species recognition and tree species surveying.