Look Out, Evil Doers, We’re Getting a Xylotron!

Sounds cool, doesn’t it? A XYLOTRON! Sounds like something a super villain, or in this case, a super hero would create. The name comes from the classical Greek word, “xylon” which means wood and the suffix “tron” being a tool or device.

(By the way, did you know that Xylotomy is the preparation of small slivers of wood for examination and that Xylography is the formal name for woodblock printing? Of course, I know you’re familiar with the musical instrument Xylophone (xylo with “phone” meaning “sound,” ie. “wooden sound”). But did you know that Xylomancy was a subject taught Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and was a method of divination using twigs?)

But back to the topic at hand. I just returned from the IWPA Convention where, among the many exceptional panels, I attended one on new technologies in wood tracking and identification. I’ll be exploring some of the new products, tools and websites out there over the next few months, but to start, we’ll look at the Xylotron.

The Xylotron was developed by the US Forest Service with international colleagues in Japan, Brazil, England, Germany, China, Italy, and Guatemala. The goal was to create something portable, cheap and accurate. At approximately 2000 dollars per machine and a recent field test coming in at 98.7% accuracy (overall it is regularly over 80%), it looks like they’ve succeeded. It is designed as open-source and can be built out of easily sourced components.

The machine is designed to tell you WHAT species of wood you are looking at, using a customized camera and a computer loaded with a reference collection of images. (They also designed a “Xyloscope” to assist in standardizing the images of wood for the best results.) The WHAT will often lead to WHERE the wood is from. Although prototypes have been in testing around the world for about five years, it’s only recently that the database of reference samples of key tropical woods has been completed. Expect to see the Xylotron feature more and more in enforcement against illegal logging and misidentification.

The Xylotron will certainly be a useful tool at any xylotheque (sometimes spelled as xylothek), which of course as you all know, is also known as a xylarium.

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Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

3 thoughts

  1. The prototype was first developed by Alex Weidenhoeft at the FPL in Madison 5 years ago. We saw it then in it’s infancy in Madison hooked up to a laptop. It is a very compact and useful tool for border agents to stop illegal trafficking of CITES endangered species. I hope it gets produced widespread soon as it would be great for general purpose wood identification.

  2. For tropical woods, you may take a look at MyWood-ID at mywoodid.frim.gov.my, a iPhone app that does the same thing too.

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