European Space Agency backs Irish start-up’s plans to digitise forestry data

1 Mar 2012

Enda Keane, co-founder and CEO, Treemetrics; Ireland's Minister for Research and Innovation Sean Sherlock, TD; Garret Mullooly, Treemetrics co-founder and COO; and Prof Amnon Ginati of the ESA

The European Space Agency is supporting a pioneering 3D forestry data initiative that’s being led by Irish forestry technology start-up Treemetrics. The Cork-based company is developing a real-time forest intelligence (RTFI) service, with the goal of bringing live 3D forestry data to mobile devices and machinery across the globe.

The aim is to help foresters capitalise on the digital age to reduce forestry waste and to have more accuracy around areas such as carbon credits.

In addition to the ESA, Enterprise Ireland will also be supporting Treemetrics as it develops the new on-demand service.

The RTFI service will build on Treemetric’s analytics platform and 11m-tree database, which is currently the largest of its kind in the world. The company has spent the past five years developing the platform.

It was back in 2005 when Enda Keane and Garret Mullooly founded Treemetrics, Since then, the duo have pioneered a unique cloud-based platform for foresters that also harnesses Google Earth.

Irish games entrepreneur Dylan Collins recently became chairman of the clean-tech start-up.

CEO Enda Keane said the ubiquitous RTFI service would be accessible to the global forestry sector, which is worth about US$50bn right now. He said it would allow harvesting machines to respond immediately to changing market demands for timber, while also “massively reducing waste”.

The company also expects its forestry technology innovation will transform traditional industry practices. Keane said the optimum level of data or accuracy has never been available to the global forestry sector.

 TreeMetrics 3D photo scanner - it helps foresters determine width, height, volume of trees, as well as wood quality

Treemetrics 3D photo scanner – it helps foresters determine width, height and volume of trees, as well as wood quality

Up to now, the only available data for forest managers was based on 19th-century measurement techniques, he said. And because foresters often have limited mobile phone coverage when working in remote areas, he said such measurement techniques have been leading to significant error rates in both revenue and carbon-credit estimates up to now.

The RTFI service will also comprise an emergency communications network for forestry workers who work in remote locations, with limited mobile phone access.

Making the forestry sector more sustainable

Keane spoke about how the service would also help make foresters operate more sustainably, reducing waste as well as their carbon output.

“This is a huge step for the global forestry industry,” he said. “Until now, timber production requirement was only established after the forest had been cut, leading to enormous waste. The RTFI service will completely revolutionise this process by delivering our rich forestry data to harvesters in real time. This is only possible through the years of research and development invested into our platform and is simply impossible for traditional measurement methods.”

Prof Amnon Ginati, the head of the Integrated Applications Department at ESA, also voiced his support for Treemetrics’ new technology.

“ESA is very pleased to support a great idea coming from this young entrepreneurship, as well as with the endorsement that it is receiving both at a political level and from Enterprise Ireland,” he said.

Ireland’s economy and start-ups

Speaking at the announcement today, Ireland’s Minister for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock, TD, said Treemetrics was an encouraging example of an Irish start-up that’s developing innovative technologies, which will lead to export sales and employment growth.

“It is fast-growth, market-leading companies like Treemetrics that will form the basis of Ireland’s economic revival,” said Sherlock.

The company’s technology is already being used in more than 14 countries and has generated more than €20m for its customers in the past 12 months alone.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic