Autonomous Collection of Forest Field Reference-The Outlook and a First Step with UAV Laser Scanning

Anttoni Jaakkola, Juha Hyyppä, Xiaowei Yu, Antero Kukko, Harri Kaartinen, Xinlian Liang, Hannu Hyyppä, Yunsheng Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)
262 Downloads (Pure)


A compact solution for the accurate and automated collection of field data in forests has long been anticipated, and tremendous efforts have been made by applying various remote sensing technologies. The employment of advanced techniques, such as the smartphone-based relascope, terrestrial and mobile photogrammetry, and laser scanning, have led to steady progress, thus steering their applications to a practical stage. However, all recent strategies require human operation for data acquisition, either to place the instrument on site (e.g., terrestrial laser scanning, TLS) or to carry the instrument by an operator (e.g., personal laser scanning, PLS), which remained laborious and expensive. In this paper, a new concept of autonomous forest field investigation is proposed, which includes data collection above and inside the forest canopy by integrating an unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) with autonomous driving. As a first step towards realizing this concept, the feasibility of automated tree-level field measurements from a mini-UAV laser scanning system is evaluated. A "low-cost" Velodyne Puck LITE laser scanner is applied for the test. It is revealed that, with the above canopy flight data, the detection rate was 100% for isolated and dominant trees. The accuracy of direct measurements on the diameter at breast height (DBH) from the point cloud is between 5.5 and 6.8 cm due to the system and the methodological error propagation. The estimation of DBH from point cloud metrics, on the other hand, showed an accuracy of 2.6 cm, which is comparable to the accuracies obtained with terrestrial surveys using mobile laser scanning (MLS), TLS or photogrammetric point clouds. The estimation of basal area, stem volume and biomass of individual trees could be obtained with less than 20% RMSE, which is adequate for field reference measurements at tree level. Such results indicate that the concept of UAV laser scanning-based automated tree-level field reference collection can be feasible, even though the whole topic requires further research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number785
Number of pages12
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • ALS
  • UAV
  • RPAS
  • autonomous driving
  • drone
  • individual tree
  • laser scanning
  • forest inventory
  • forest

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