Summary: We wrote this in 2011. While meant to be a different way of looking at how equipment will improve in your tree care, on reviewing this data in 2019, in some ways these things are happening but the widespread adoption is lagging. Tree services have been defined by important developments, such as the bucket truck. In looking at the technology we predicted, there are applications being done in the commercial and utility trimming such as with drone technology that point to some accuracy of this article. There are still trimmers in the trees and this will still be a ways off from robotic arms as such – Jan 2, 2019
In 10 years, the tree trimmer will do his work without touching the canopy.
In 20 years, the arborists’ bucket truck will be a set of robotic arms that prunes, loads and chips by itself.
These predictions are based on the exponential growth of computing power calculated by Raymond Kurzweil, the world’s bravest, and some say, most accurate, futurist.
His predictions have influenced Bill Gates, Bill Joy (Founder of Sun Microsystems) and three US presidents.
His inventions helped Stevie Wonder be able to read on his own.
A little background.
When Kurzweil first started computer programming in the 1960s, he was in awe of an IBM 360 Model 91 machine which filled up a gigantic chamber house in New England. The machine had 1000 kB of core memory, or 1 MB.
As a comparison, a typical e-mail address today box holds around 300 MB of data.
He developed a program, while still an undergraduate, that matched high school students to an ideal college.
At that time, renting the state-of-the-art IBM machine was $1000/hour. However, that primitive machine could process the data he needed in 10 seconds, a job that would’ve take humans 10 hours to do.
“When I was an undergraduate we all shared a computer at MIT that took up half of a building. The computer and your cellphone today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful. That’s a billion fold increase in price performance of computing since I was an undergraduate,“ said Kurzweil.
In other words the amount of computer processing you can buy for a dollar today would’ve cost $1 billion in 1968.
Kurzweil predicts that over the next decade, price-performance ratio of computing is going to hit a knee on the exponential curve of processing growth.
That means very small and very fast computers.
Even if his predictions are off, I believe that this trend will rapidly enhance the underlying technology of a tree trimming truck.
And within the next decade.
“The bucket truck is getting smaller yet reaching and loading capacity has definitely increased. Bucket trucks are now equipped with electronic stability control and computerized systems that can prevent and/or mitigate accidents,” wrote Christopher Hunter an expert in commercial specialty trucks with Nueco-Altec.
“Manufacturers of aerial devices have developed smaller utility vehicles that have an increased working height up to approximately 16 meters, a side reach of 15 meters, and platform capacity of 400kg and it comes with less maintenance required.”
So fast forward to 2019.
The arborist drives up the job site and parks. He raises the the platform into the canopy via computerized remote controls.
Miniature cameras take snapshots of the branch structure. Sensor devices determine deadwood from live branches and take precise measurements of the total number and circumference of the branches.
The onboard computer processes a trimming plan, by recognizing patterns from millions of other tree trimming jobs. The arborist makes any adjustments based on his visual inspection.
The arborist then raises the robotic arms, equipped with various size chainsaws, into the canopy to complete the job. The debris is collected by a separate arm or ground-based receptacle and thrown in a chipper which makes perfect size chips for biofuel.
By 2029 the parallel processing and pattern recognition of computers will be equal to the pattern recognition of the arborist brain.
This means the bucket truck will be able to make judgments and alter the trimming plan and then make the cuts on its own, without a human operator.
Kurzweil believes we are in the early stage when the exponential growth of computing power itself will start to grow exponentially.
Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, observed in the 1960s that processing power tended to double every two years, an observation now known as Moore’s Law.
However computer engineers say we are at the end of Moore’s Law, that transistors can’t get any smaller.
When (and if) a new technology such as quantum computing, utility clouds, or some other parallel processing innovation emerges, the result will be shorter and shorter. Think buying a new computer every two months instead of every two years.