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UNITE Flagship makes bold new openings in forest research and innovation

This week, the Academy of Finland announced four new Flagships to secure significant funding for the upcoming four-year period. One of the new Flagships is UNITE, Forest-Human-Machine Interplay - Building Resilience, Redefining Value Networks and Enabling Meaningful Experiences, coordinated by the University of Eastern Finland. The mission of the Flagship is to diversify forest-related livelihoods, promote forests as a source of health and well-being, and safeguard biodiversity.

“In this Flagship, we seek to create novel business models that are based on a digitised and gamified forest environment. Our goal is to make bold new openings relating to, e.g., forest experiences and well-being, advisory services designed for forest owners, and increasingly effective procurement of wood,” says the Flagship’s Director Professor Jyrki Kangas from the University of Eastern Finland.

Gamification and the interplay between humans, machines and forests will be developed and studied from a multitude of perspectives.

“Investigating new ways of gathering, understanding and using data from nature stands at the core of our activities, through which we seek to strengthen the multifaceted relationships that exist between humans and ecosystems. Examples of gamified applications include location-based gaming, drone racing, playful wearable technologies, simulation games, game-based decision-making systems and VR/AR technologies,” Professor of Gamification Juho Hamari from Tampere University says.

The scientific breakthroughs expected from UNITE are based on, e.g., the application of game and mobile technologies, robotics and machine vision, and laser scanning technologies.

“The targets of application include, e.g., acquisition of forest-related data, increasingly accurate positioning of machines in forests, management of forest damage, development of nature tourism, wood harvesting operations and logistics, and increasing forest-related health and well-being effects,” says the Flagship’s Deputy Director, Professor Juha Hyyppä from the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute at the National Land Survey of Finland.

Increasingly close collaboration with business and industry

One of the Flagship’s goals is to generate data for increasingly high-quality and diverse description of forests. These data allow better optimization of forest use, which will also generate more economic gain from forests. 

“These data also give us better opportunities to evaluate the effects of forest use on biodiversity, carbon sequestration and landscapes. Digitalisation in harvesting, on the other hand, leads to cost savings and reduces harmful environmental effects,” Professor Kangas says.

Increasingly accurate data on forests also makes it possible to make more reliable estimates of sustainable harvesting opportunities to support investments in the forestry sector, as well as of various strategies for forest use. 

“We will comprehensively digitalise forests and their use, as well as the value chains of the forest-based bioeconomy. We’ll start in Finland, but our impact will be global,” Research Professor Annika Kangas from the Natural Resources Institute Finland says.

As its corporate partners, UNITE has small and large forest and game sector companies. The partner network also includes working life developers, national and international associations, and leading scholars from across the world. 

According to Professor Jyrki Kangas, the corporate partners’ major contributions to RDI activities in the themes covered by UNITE give the Flagship excellent potential in collaboration and impact. 

“We are very much looking forward to collaborating with our partners in the Flagship.”  

The UNITE Flagship is formed by the School of Forest Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland, the Natural Resources Institute Finland, the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute at the National Land Survey of Finland, and Tampere University. The UNITE Flagship is coordinated by the School of Forest Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland. UNITE also brings together the world's leading research groups in the fields of forest sciences, geoinformation and sensor development, and gamification.  

For further information, please contact:

Flagship Director, Professor of Forest Bioeconomy Jyrki Kangas, University of Eastern Finland, jyrki.kangas(at), tel. +358 50 344 9888 

Flagship Deputy Director, Head of Department of Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry, Professor Juha Hyyppä, Finnish Geospatial Research Institute at the National Land Survey of Finland, juha.hyyppa(at), tel. +358 41 5194451

Research Professor Annika Kangas, Natural Resources Institute Finland, annika.kangas(at), tel +358 295 322461

Professor of Gamification Juho Hamari, Tampere University, juho.hamari(at), tel. +358 50 318 6861