Under-canopy UAV laser scanning for accurate forest field measurements

Eric Hyyppä, Juha Hyyppä*, Teemu Hakala, Antero Kukko, Michael A. Wulder, Joanne C. White, Jiri Pyörälä, Xiaowei Yu, Yunsheng Wang, Juho Pekka Virtanen, Onni Pohjavirta, Xinlian Liang, Markus Holopainen, Harri Kaartinen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)
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Surveying and robotic technologies are converging, offering great potential for robotic-assisted data collection and support for labour intensive surveying activities. From a forest monitoring perspective, there are several technological and operational aspects to address concerning under-canopy flying unmanned airborne vehicles (UAV). To demonstrate this emerging technology, we investigated tree detection and stem curve estimation using laser scanning data obtained with an under-canopy flying UAV. To this end, we mounted a Kaarta Stencil-1 laser scanner with an integrated simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) system on board an UAV that was manually piloted with the help of video goggles receiving a live video feed from the onboard camera of the UAV. Using the under-canopy flying UAV, we collected SLAM-corrected point cloud data in a boreal forest on two 32 m × 32 m test sites that were characterized as sparse (n = 42 trees) and obstructed (n = 43 trees), respectively. Novel data processing algorithms were applied for the point clouds in order to detect the stems of individual trees and to extract their stem curves and diameters at breast height (DBH). The estimated tree attributes were compared against highly accurate field reference data that was acquired semi-manually with a multi-scan terrestrial laser scanner (TLS). The proposed method succeeded in detecting 93% of the stems in the sparse plot and 84% of the stems in the obstructed plot. In the sparse plot, the DBH and stem curve estimates had a root-mean-squared error (RMSE) of 0.60 cm (2.2%) and 1.2 cm (5.0%), respectively, whereas the corresponding values for the obstructed plot were 0.92 cm (3.1%) and 1.4 cm (5.2%). By combining the stem curves extracted from the under-canopy UAV laser scanning data with tree heights derived from above-canopy UAV laser scanning data, we computed stem volumes for the detected trees with a relative RMSE of 10.1% in both plots. Thus, the combination of under-canopy and above-canopy UAV laser scanning allowed us to extract the stem volumes with an accuracy comparable to the past best studies based on TLS in boreal forest conditions. Since the stems of several spruces located on the test sites suffered from severe occlusion and could not be detected with the stem-based method, we developed a separate work flow capable of detecting trees with occluded stems. The proposed work flow enabled us to detect 98% of trees in the sparse plot and 93% of the trees in the obstructed plot with a 100% correction level in both plots. A key benefit provided by the under-canopy UAV laser scanner is the short period of time required for data collection, currently demonstrated to be much faster than the time required for field measurements and TLS. The quality of the measurements acquired with the under-canopy flying UAV combined with the demonstrated efficiency indicates operational potential for supporting fast and accurate forest resource inventories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-60
Number of pages20
JournalISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Airborne laser scanning
  • SLAM
  • Stem curve
  • Stem volume
  • UAV
  • Under-canopy flight


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