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New applications from union of photonics and forest sciences

The Forest & Photonics 2017 conference held in Koli this September, introduced the latest applications at the interface of photonics and forest sciences. Thanks to new user-friendly solutions, applications of optics, augmented reality and virtual reality relating to the environment and forests are making their way to consumers. Moreover, applications of photonics are finally starting to be sophisticated enough to have real global demand.

The use of augmented reality in the aviation industry, for example, is significantly changing the way people work. For instance, the electrical wiring of an aircraft needs to be correct in order for it to work.  Using virtual lenses that display the relevant instructions in real time, the mechanic doesn’t need to stop working to look up instructions in a manual.

Virtual lenses are also reforming the supervision of work and how harvesters are operated in the forestry sector. Already used in surgery, eye-tracking technology is also well suited to forestry, allowing the supervisor to guide the harvester operator in real time.

“Operating a harvester means making difficult decisions all the time, and finding the best way to pick up and process a log. Breaks don’t come naturally in this line of work, making it very consuming. Remote control facilitates this, and it is possible already today,” Docent Roman Bednarik from the University of Eastern Finland School of Computing explained.

In the photo: Roman Bednarik.

The harvester project was launched at the University of Eastern Finland already a couple of years ago, and it has made good progress. According to Bednarik, similar applications of gaze tracking can also be used in other “busy hand” industries, where hands can’t be used freely while work is ongoing.

“We will be seeing more of all kinds of sensors and monitoring devices in the future, making it possible to take user needs and goals into consideration. Remote control works particularly well for drones, for example.”

Light instead of waste heat

In the field of chemistry, OLED lights that are based on newly discovered rotating molecules will significantly enhance energy efficiency. 

“In theory, rotating molecules make it possible to convert all energy into light instead of waste heat, as these molecules can harvest dark states into light production,” Associate Professor Mikko Linnolahti from the University of Eastern Finland Department of Chemistry explained.

In the photo: Mikko Linnolahti.

This discovery is rooted in scientists’ basic research in chemistry over the past decades. The project partners include universities in the UK, and commercial applications will be the next big step.

“We want to find more molecules that have the same characteristic in order to start tailoring the properties. Once we better understand the association between the structure and properties of molecules, we will be able to design completely new kinds of light systems,” Linnolahti said.

“It is characteristic of basic research to try to understand an observed phenomenon.”

New business from applications of optics

According to Professor Markku Keinänen from the University of Eastern Finland Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences, a clear change is visible in forestry technology, as the first new applications are starting to be generally used.

In the photo: Markku Keinänen.

“Virtual reality and new IT solutions are creating new business opportunities. Optics enables better training, better performance and, of course, financial gains,” Keinänen said.

“Various advanced methods of optics are starting to be available to consumers in the plant, forestry and environmental sectors, and consumers want solutions that are affordable.”

“Photonics research carried out at the University of Eastern Finland is well-equipped to meet the growing demand. I believe this is becoming a major phenomenon at the global scale, and the expertise of our university will be widely known.”

Text: Marianne Mustonen
Photos: Varpu Heiskanen