photo of Alex Wiedenhoeft using a Xyloscope

Customs agents are stretched thin; between illegal drugs and weapons, they do not have the time to catch every shipment of mislabeled and oftentimes illegally logged wood product that comes through their trade ports. A team from the Forest Products Laboratory, including 2014 NWFA Expo Inspector Symposium speaker Alex Wiedenhoeft as co-inventor, is developing a game changer in that regard-a camera device that can identify wood in a flash. For example, the ship's manifest says pine, but the device identifies rosewood. "That's probably a sufficient red flag to halt the shipment, set it aside, take some specimens and have scientific or forensic level verification of what's going on," Wiedenhoeft says. The device, called the Xyloscope (Xylo is Greek for "wood"), is the size of a wooden toy train whistle. One end houses a scientific-grade camera and connects via USB to a laptop. The other end houses an array of LEDs to illuminate the wood. Touch the end grain of a piece of wood to the camera, press "S" on the keyboard and up pops the genus and species. In a matter of seconds, the software compares it with more than 8,000 wood sample datasets in the FPL's database photo of a man using a Xyloscopeand chooses the closest match. The device can even differentiate species within the genus Swietenia (the true mahoganies) with 80 percent accuracy, a rate trained experts can't touch, Wiedenhoeft says. The device is still under development, and right now, it's set up to identify only wood from the Americas, but the FPL has sent the devices to six partner labs across the globe to add samples to its database. The potential to cut back on illegal logging is great, Wiedenhoeft says, adding that the device isn't ready for the limelight quite yet, but the time will be here sooner than people expect.



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Andrew Averill is the former associate editor at Wood Floor Business. A graduate of journalism at the University of Wisconsin, he had internships at newspapers across the country—San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, The Flint Journal—before a bad case of rug burn turned him into an advocate for floors of a harder disposition.