The controls for Kodama’s teleoperation systems. | Source: Kodama Systems
21 Feb 2024

Innovation & wildfire mitigation: R/C robotics used to thin out forests - wood stored in underground vaults


Kodama Systems, a startup robotics company, is claiming that debris from the forest shouldn't be slashburned, but could be stored underground in a "wood vault" to lock them up indefinately as a carbon hold. 

Government agencies and private landowners are recently focusing on removing combustible material from the forests to reduce potential fuel fire loads. They are also turning to forest-thinning methods that use machines to remove excess and hazardous vegetation. Their goals are to improve forest health conditions and keep wildfires from spreading out of control.

Kodama Systems is a California startup attempting to make that work more efficient by using remote control robotics technology in common forestry equipment. Anything an operator can control from within the cab, the company claims they can control remotely.

However, perhaps the more radical idea the company is promoting is what to do with the debris once it has been harvested: Underground vaults where the internal combustion of the decaying wood is slowed down.   

CEO Merritt Jenkins said to RobotReport.com, in a January 30th, 2024 article:

 “With pile burning, almost all of that carbon that’s stored in the biomass ends up going into the atmosphere as CO2 emissions. Instead, you can lock that carbon away for hundreds of years... We are developing what we call a ‘wood vault,’ which is a method of storing that material underground for hundreds of years in dry, anaerobic storage.”

In "whole tree" thinning, the tree trunks will in best case be sold as lumber. That is, if it is within economical distance from a mill. If the logs have imperfections, or the tree is too small, most sawmills will not accept them. 

A second option is taking the wood material to a biomass plant, however, often the distance to one of those is also often too long to make economic sense. 

According to Jenkins, today, most of the small-diameter wood is piled and burned more or less on the spot where it was cut. 


“Whole-tree” thinning requires a feller buncher, a skidder, a processor, and a loader. Startup company Kodama wants to automate them all, allegedly freeing up more time for skilled operators to do more difficult and demanding jobs than what is required for forest thinning for wildfire mitigation. Source: Kodama Systems.