48 students from 16 universities released autonomous drones and robots into the forest.
Self-flying drones and autonomous robots carried out various tasks in the forest from April 20th to 22nd - at least in theory. The "autonomous forest worker" was the focus of the Evergreen Innovation Camp in Vienna. The central question of this hackathon was how autonomous technologies can revolutionize sustainable forestry. Teams of students and young professionals had 48 hours to develop their best ideas for the application of autonomously operating devices in the forest. The event took place at the premises of the Vienna University of Technology in Arsenal.
Three teams particularly impressed the expert jury with their ideas: The winning team "Free the Tree" developed an autonomous mowing and care robot. It independently recognizes young trees and removes vegetation that could overgrow them. The team "Borky" came in second place. They developed a robust, efficient, and cost-effective solution for the very present problem of bark beetles in forestry. The team "ThinX" presented a vision for digital inventory. Based on a digital twin of the forest, a drone autonomously marks the trees that need to be inspected. The first prize was endowed with €6,000, second place with €3,000, and third place with €1,500.
As with the first Evergreen Innovation Camp, emphasis was placed on the interdisciplinary composition of the teams. Each team consisted of forestry and wood science students combined with participants from other fields of study, such as computer scientists, mechatronics engineers, and even two students from an art university. The nearly 50 participants came from 16 universities and colleges in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.
With this mixture, the Evergreen Foundation aims to foster new approaches and solutions. These were presented on Friday evening at the final closing event in front of high-ranking representatives from industry and forestry.
"The teams demonstrated the potential of what sustainable forest management or habitat protection could look like in the future. Autonomous drones and robots will undoubtedly revolutionize forestry work. It was exciting to see how the student teams approached the topic," said Hannes Plackner, project manager, and mentor of the Evergreen Innovation Camp.
Georg Erlacher, board member of the Evergreen Foundation, commented on the hackathon: "The format of a hackathon and the collaboration of participants from various fields of study promote interdisciplinary exchange and enable completely new approaches. We are pleased that this format has been so well received and that many interesting concepts have been developed. It once again demonstrated how important it is to think outside the box and collaborate with other disciplines, especially for forestry and wood science."
The ideas seem promising. Two teams received an invitation to a startup program during the closing event. "Beetle ForTech," a successful startup, has already emerged from the "Beetle" team of the inaugural Evergreen Innovation Camp Hackathon in 2019.