Treemetrics 3D scanning helps loggers make more money cutting fewer trees

Treemetrics is taking forestry high-tech with its 3D laser scanning system to accurately measure the height, straightness, taper and volume of the trees in a section of forest. Currently measurement is done manually by a forester walking the ground and using calipers to measure the radius of a sample of trees. Better measurement means that fewer trees can be cut while maximizing value. Treemetrics claims that its system can also reduce measurement costs by 75 percent.

Treemetrics just received an innovation award from the Irish Society of Foresters hot on the heels of a special mention from the judges in IBM’s smartcamp global finals.

TreeMetric’s CEO Enda Keane told me that if there is one thing that foresters hate doing, it’s cutting trees. He should know, having worked as a forester himself for 10 years. According to Keane, 20 percent of the value of forests worldwide (or approximately 10 billion Euros) is lost annually due to inaccurate knowledge of the quantity or quality of the timber available before trees are harvested.

Keane first encountered 3D graphics via satellite images, which foresters use to get different views of the forest. Having started the company in 2005 with Garret Mullooly, he collaborated with research teams at several European universities with expertise on image processing, forest recovery and optimization to develop the software for the Treemetrics scanner.

A 3D laser scanner works by emitting laser pulses that bounce back from objects in the area, allowing their shape to be measured. The 3D laser scanning machine gathers millions of data points over a 30 meter radius of forest, which is used to construct a 3D model of the trees in that area. Virtual sawmill software can then be used to calculate an optimal logging schedule.

Treemetrics’ system is now used in forests in Ireland, Norway, Australia, the United Kingdom and the US. Keane says the company has no direct competitors. Currently aerial photography is the main technology used in forest management in addition to manual measurement. Treemetrics’ business model is software as a service, where users are charged 30 EUR cents per cubic meter for measurements alone and 40 cents to use forest management optimization software.

The next feature Treemetrics expects to add to the software is the ability to connect forests directly to sawmills. This would allow a lean supply chain model to be applied to forestry. Forests would be logged for optimal yield while sawmills would get the right logs in a “just-in-time” manner.

Treemetrics is based in Cork, Ireland, has 7 employees and has received 1.4 million EUR ($1.87 million) in private and government funding.

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