Geo Week News

February 10, 2011

Forest scanners Treemetrics finalists at IBM SmartCamp

Treemetrics1

Treemetrics1

Will an idea for better measuring timber resources result in Entrepreneur of the Year?

DUBLIN—Nine tech start-ups from around the world converge here today for the IBM SmartCamp World Finals, which will result in one company being named IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year successfully pitching their unique Smarter Planet business idea to a panel of industry experts.

In the running? Treemetrics, a firm that uses 3D laser scanning to capture a more accurate measurement of timber resources in forest lands, moving forward an industry that’s been inaccurately measuring timber resources for centuries.

“There’s a huge increasing demand for wood,” said Enda Keane, Treemetrics co-founder and CEO, “but it’s a finite resource. How does the planet meet this challenge? One of the ways is through better measuring and better managing the resources that we have.”

Treemetrics has accomplished this by combining software analysis tools with terrestrial 3D laser scanning to “dramatically improve the raw data being collected in the forest, and the systems for establishing what’s there, then quantifying what’s the best and optimum use of that resource.”

Previously, the common practice for estimating the amount of useable timber in a forest involved common calipers, which were employed by a forester to collect tree diameters, which would then be combined with an estimated “quality” of the trees, established through judgment and the human eye. 

“When the human eye is involved, then there’s uncertainty and risk,” said Keane, “and the buyer does not trust the valuation of the owner, and there’s a crazy situation where everyone is measuring the same forest.” In some cases, a disagreement of 20 percent would be accepted, because “it’s a very difficult crop to measure, and you only really know that you’ve bought once the crop has been cut.”

By then, it’s too late to optimize the forest’s resources. 

After what Keane described as an “arduous” journey to develop a business plan and find customers, Treemetrics now is working globally from its base here in Ireland, with clients in Australia, Europe, America, and Uruguay, to name a few. The key was establishing a value proposition, a business plan that showed customers the potential profit return. After that, the technology was an easy sell.

“It’s a fairly simple process that foresters get,” Kean said, noting that he’s a trained forester. “It’s the first system in the world that measures the straightness of trees, the taper of trees, and that’s a hugely important variable – the next time you’re passing a forest, just look at the variation of straightness and taper. It’s hugely variable, and how the hell are you supposed to do that with the human eye?”

Using a variety of scanners—products from FARO, Z+F, Leica, and Trimble—Keane and his partner established that phase-based scanners were best, because of their speed, but that one of the biggest hurdles to overcome was the weight and bulkiness of the scanners themselves. 

“They’re all good devices,” Keane said, “and they’re getting closer and closer to being a forestry tool. We knew they weren’t really there, but we were willing to put up with it because the data was so good. Then, finally, the latest FARO Focus3D, that’s really excited us.”

The idea is for Treemetrics to get out of the scanning game, as foresters buy their own scanners and use Treemetrics software to make sense of their findings and compare them against a central forestry database.

“The forestry industry is seen as very conservative, but when it sees a technology that makes sense, they really go for it,” Keane said. “I believe foresters will enjoy working with this tool in the forest. It’s going to be a forester’s friend, and dramatically change the quality and quantity of data that foresters have been lacking for many, many centuries. It’s going to be a massive benefit to the planet.”

Why?

“Most growers have supply contracts,” Keane explained, “and most can now meet that contract by using less trees. And therein lies the opportunity, keeping the planet’s needs supplied while using less trees. The world is waking up to the world of green technologies and if you can provide people a profit proposition you can provide a winning formula.”

Keane predicts that the accurate data provided by laser scanning will lead to other resource-conservation businesses, as the new measurements provide new and better ways to use resources intelligently. 

For now, however, he’ll be spending the next two days trying to convince venture capitalists and other entrepreneurial experts about the Treemetrics business proposition. “We’re going to present our plans for growth, and hopefully it will catch the attention of some VCs or other individuals who will help us get to be a global standard,” Keane said.

Keane will be speaking at SPAR Europe, at 3 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 8, at the RAI Convention Center in Amsterdam.

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