By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications
Enda Keane’s honest-to-goodness spark of inspiration came during an ordinary day on the job at his graphics company in 2005 when he happened upon a 3D image of a tree for the first time ever.
Suddenly, before his eyes, lay the solution to a problem he had been pondering for over 15 years.
Prior to starting a graphics firm, Keane had studied forestry at University College Dublin and worked in the industry for a decade. From early on he had been troubled by the inaccurate manual techniques foresters use to measure trees.
“As a forester, I was always thinking, ‘There must be a better way to do this,’” Keane said. “The instant I saw that 3D tree, I realized: This is it!”
Within a year, Keane partnered with Garret Mullooly, an old college friend who shared his forestry vision, to start Treemetrics and provide 3D imagery of forests to meet the industry’s need for better data. Today — after years devoted to research, software development and finding partners and financing — Keane and Mullooly are taking the Treemetrics solution around the world, hoping to modernize how the forestry industry does business.
A better way to measure and manage forests
Typically, growers walk through a forest and manually measure the width of select trees using calipers. They then use tables to predict the inventory of the wider forest and rely on the human eye to determine each tree’s straightness and other variations.
“Sometimes you’ll cut the forest and the measurements for a lot of the trees are wrong,” Keane said. “On average 20 percent of a forest’s potential value is lost at harvest time because bad information leads to unused and wasted timber.”
Treemetrics’ main offering, The Forest Warehouse, takes raw data from the laser scans of a forest and creates precise 3D profiles of each standing tree. It is the first commercially available solution that measures tree straightness and taper — crucial measurements for determining the optimal product mix from any given tree.
“Our cutting simulation software lets foresters cut a forest plot online and evaluate potential yield and value long before they actually harvest a single tree,” Keane said. “By applying sophisticated analytics to the scanner data, we enable smarter decision-making along the entire forestry supply chain and can dramatically reduce waste.”
Man with a mission: Inspiring more environmental entrepreneurs
Today Keane spends nearly a quarter of his time traveling the world, marketing Treemetrics. “I really believe that in five years it will be routine in forestry to bring 3D scanners into the forest,” he said.
But Keane’s drive to change the industry and build a successful business is matched by his passion to help save forests and protect the environment.
“My dad spent 40 years of his life working in wildlife conservation, and I was hugely influenced by that,” Keane said. “The bottom line is that Treemetrics lets us produce more timber products using fewer trees. That can make a real difference to the world’s forests when you realize demand for timber is expected to double over the next 40 years.”
Keane is on a mission to inspire other entrepreneurs to apply their business and tech savvy to address the world’s environmental problems. He is a great believer in IBM’s Smarter Planet vision and encourages entrepreneurs to study it closely for inspiration, motivation and ideas.
“There are so many unbelievable, commercially viable opportunities in the environmental space,” Keane said. “I’ve learned that if you have an environmental proposition to go with your profit proposition, you have a great opportunity to succeed. People will want to help you because they’ll want to be a part of the good work you’re doing.”
Keane is hopeful about the future — but eager to see a new generation of entrepreneurs invent solutions to the planet’s multitude of environmental problems. “We need people with talent and passion to take on this massive challenge,” Keane said.
Treemetrics is an Irish software company that uses 3D laser scanners and innovative analytics to provide the commercial forestry industry with more accurate and cost-effective measurement of trees before harvesting. The Treemetrics solution gives growers and purchasers a precise inventory of the trees in a forest so they can make optimal choices about what to cut — and thereby maximize profit and minimize wasted timber. Treemetrics was a finalist in IBM’s 2010 SmartCamp competition, which identifies and mentors early-stage entrepreneurs aligned with IBM’s Smarter Planet vision. See a demo of the Treemetrics process in this video: