Tree harvesting is a destructive business by design. The machines trample the forest floor, leaving pulverized tracks in their wake. Christian Knobloch, a German industrial designer, wanted to build a kinder and gentler harvester, so he devised a light-weight, striding tree harvester.
The machine has two feet, each with three prongs, that are connected to each other by a crossbar. When it’s time to move the harvester, the cabin crane slides along the cross bar onto one side, so that the opposite foot can swing freely. Thus, the entire rig can creep along the forest floor in a zig-zagging pattern. Knobloch estimates that his harvester will weigh a mere 7.5 tons–a feather, compared with the 55 tons that most harvesters weigh. The design could also work on marshy ground and step across gullies, two landscapes that render many forests inaccessible. And, thanks to the widely splayed feet, it can lift heavier weights without needing a counterbalance.
Sounds like a one-way ticket to greater deforestation, right? Maybe, maybe not. Forest management is changing, as scientists begin to recognize that carefully managed forests–alongside carefully managed logging–can sequester vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Knobloch’s idea with his striding machine is that it will tread more lightly across the forest floor, so that its ecology can quickly bounce back after logging. For now it’s only a concept, but it’s a truly innovative movement systems, with potential applications to construction cranes and heavy machinery around the world.