Smart forestry, soon a reality

Dr. Sriyani Wickramasinghe 
Dean Applied Sciences Faculty, Rajarata University and 

Prof. Ajith C. Herath 
Applied Sciences Faculty, Rajarata University


LoRaWAN stands for Long Range Wide Area Network. It is a standard for wireless communication that allows IoT devices to communicate over a large distance with minimal battery usage. LoRa is a patented digital wireless data communication technology developed by Cycleo of Grenoble in France and was acquired by Semtech in 2012. LoRa is a long-range wireless communication protocol that competes against other low-power wide-area wireless networks such as NB-IoT and LTE Cat M1. Compared to those, LoRa achieves its extremely long-range connectivity, possibly more than 100 km, by trading off data rates. As its data rates are below 50 kbps and LoRa is limited by duty cycle and other restrictions, it is suitable in practice for non-real-time applications in which one can tolerate delays.

Five universities in Sri Lanka have joined hands to implement Sri Lanka’s first-ever LoRaWAN connectivity with the aim of making Sri Lanka the first country in South Asia to have a smart sensor network over 90 percent of the island.

LoRa is a patented technology with a wide range of practical solutions for real-world problems. This technology can be applied in medical sensor reading, body bio capsule reading, smart parking and smart city management of traffic and waste.

According to industrial forecasts, 50 billion devices are expected to be connected through this LoRa network globally by 2020.


The growing human population has expanded the Wildland - Urban Interface (WUI) across Sri Lanka. The juxtaposition of buildings, infrastructure and forests in the WUI creates challenges for natural resource managers. The presence of flammable vegetation, high rates of human-caused ignitions and high building densities combine to increase the risks of catastrophic loss from a wildfire in the WUI.

At the same time, the fragmentation of large ownerships of land into smaller parcels and changing demographics may limit the possibilities for managing fuels with prescribed fire. To make effective decisions in this environment, land managers will need to integrate a large volume of information characterising physical features, biological characteristics, and human dimensions of these landscapes. Remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) technologies play an unmatched role in this regard nowadays.

LoRaWAN is an active form of remote sensing that can be used for light detection and ranging in forests. It measures the distance between the earth and space using laser pulses that emanate from a sensor and strike on an object and then reflect back to the sensor. This technology has several uses in forestry.

Below are a few of the applications in this vast field.

1. Micro-topography

LoRaWAN technology with a dedicated sensor can be used to calculate surface elevation values in forests. Traditional technologies such as photogrammetry are not very accurate when compared to LoRa sensors. LoRa collects data using sensor pulses to strike on an object precisely and it is not obstructed by canopy or forest vegetation.

2. Forest management

LoRaWAN technology plays a vital role in the planning and management of forests. A LoRa sensor can be used to measure the vertical structures and density of a canopy in forests.

3. Forest fire management

Nowadays fire departments across the world move towards LoRa technology to manage forest fires. The technology provides data to monitor fire patterns in forests so that a fire department aware of the next possible forest fire and can even put in place measures to avoid it.

4. Precision forestry

Precision forestry is the planning of a specific forest site for the purpose of increasing the productivity of the site in terms of the quality of trees and overall yield. LoRa provides precision data regarding a specific site and helps in targetting the area to achieve this.

5. Forest mapping

LoRa is important in providing exact data regarding the terrain of a particular place and its suitability to maintain a forest in that area. The data obtained provide details about the terrain including land height and the quality of soil to determine its suitability to have a forest.

6. Environmental assessment

The data generated from LoRa sensors can be used in environmental assessment which is usually done to ensure plants and trees in a forest are protected. This can also be used to find a specific area in a forest that has been affected by human activities and apply mitigating factors to reduce environmental degradation.

7. Biodiversity of birds

Forests are the home of several bird species, insects and animals. Forests experts can use LoRa data to analyse the vertical cover of trees in forests to determine the suitability of bird species that can thrive in that environment.

8. Ecological and land classification

Ecological and Land Classification (ELC) is usually performed to provide accurate information about a particular landscape. This information was traditionally extracted using surveying. But LoRa technology gives accurate information in determining the land suitable for forests and the land suitable for habitat management.

9. Pollution modeling

LoRa technology is capable of mapping a forest, and determines the pollutants that are found in and around a forest and help researchers and forest experts to eliminate the pollutants to keep the forest healthy.

10. Estimation of carbon absorption

LoRa technology can be used to get accurate data to determine the level of carbon absorption in a forest. This data is then used to determine the amount of carbon within a specific location in the forest and help researchers make improvements.

11. Study forest ecology

Data collected through LoRa technology is precise enough to offer all information regarding forest ecology and the habitats within the forest. This information helps researchers to understand what kind of animals live in the forest, what species will survive and which ones will not.

12. Quantifying forest fire fuel

The fact that LoRa technology is precise in its calculation makes it ideal in the quantification of forest fire fuel.

This data can be used to calculate the exact number of trees within a given area and also determine the extent of forest degradation in that area.

13. Forest structure analysis

LoRa technology has already been used in determining the forest structure. The collected data interpret the vertical distribution of light transmittance and foliage distribution. It can also determine the height and density of trees within the forest.

14. Individual tree analysis

LoRa data is already being used to calculate individual tree characteristics including tree-height and crown diameter. With this data, people can then determine the health of trees in that particular region and come up with ways of improving the overall health of the tree.

15. Controlling deforestation

LoRa data can be used to calculate the expected tree output and the actual tree output in a forest and determine the exact difference. This data can also be used to explain the cause of the discrepancy and researchers can institute control measures with the use of this information.

In addition to the benefits mentioned above, LoRaWAN technology has numerous other advantages in forestry.

Sri Lankan university academics with the assistance of foreign experts will conduct research in the above fields to further expand their presence around the globe. Manufacturing high-end sensors across the world for smart forestry is worthwhile and challenging. 

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