Below-canopy UAVs hold promise for automated forest surveys because their sensors can provide detailed information on below-canopy forest structures, especially in dense forests, which may be inaccessible to above-canopy UAVs, aircraft, and satellites. We present an end-to-end autonomous system for estimating tree diameters using a below-canopy UAV in parklands. We used simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) and LiDAR data produced at flight time as inputs to diameter-estimation algorithms in post-processing. The SLAM path was used for initial compilation of horizontal LiDAR scans into a 2D cross-sectional map, and then optimization algorithms aligned the scans for each tree within the 2D map to achieve a precision suitable for diameter measurement. The algorithms successfully identified 12 objects, 11 of which were trees and one a lamppost. For these, the estimated diameters from the autonomous survey were highly correlated with manual ground-truthed diameters (
, root mean squared error = 30.6%, bias = 18.4%). Autonomous measurement was most effective for larger trees (>300 mm diameter) within 10 m of the UAV flight path, for medium trees (200–300 mm diameter) within 5 m, and for trees with regular cross sections. We conclude that fully automated below-canopy forest surveys are a promising, but still nascent, technology and suggest directions for future research.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited