How forest fires can be prevented with the help of technology

Judith Hillen

Startup Stories

The burning forests in Australia and California were big in the headlines last year. But the risk of forest fires is also increasing in this country due to climate change. The startup Dryad, which is part of the 5-HT network, has therefore set itself the goal of using technology to detect and prevent forest fires at an early stage. In the interview, CEO and co-founder Carsten Brinkschulte, explains how their solution works, when it will be available and how forest owners can use it not only to ward off fires but also to improve the health and growth of trees.

Carsten Brinkschulte, CEO and co-founder of Dryad
Carsten Brinkschulte, CEO and co-founder of Dryad

Why are forest fires such a big danger?

Due to ongoing climate change, the number of forest fires is increasing not only in California and the Amazon, but also in Europe and especially in Germany. I didn't realise before that forest fires cause up to 20 percent of global CO2 emissions. That is roughly equivalent to the amount emitted by all traffic - i.e. all cars, planes and ships together. At the same time, forest fires cause the loss of the world's largest CO2 reservoir. This is not only a massive problem for the environment, but also causes great economic damage. Worldwide, forest fires cause direct and indirect damage amounting to 140 billion US dollars every year. California alone spent 2 billion US dollars on fighting forest fires last year. Therefore, with Dryad, we offer a technical solution to detect and prevent forest fires at an early stage.

How did Dryad come to be founded?

Before founding Dryad in January 2020, I had already worked in telecommunications and network infrastructure for 25 years and successfully built several startups. When I realised how big the problem of forest fires was, I wanted to use my experience to do something meaningful. What we do at Dryad is not so different from my previous startups in the telecommunications sector, because according to our motto "Connecting the Natural World" we build communication networks to better analyse and protect natural ecosystems such as forests. We are a team of six co-founders from different areas such as technology, finance, sales and corporate strategy. For the scientific background, Dr. habil. Jürgen Müller is very important for us, as he has already carried out a university project in the research area of forest ecology on the topic of early detection of forest fires, so that we can now develop a commercial product on this basis.

How does early detection of forest fires work with Dryad?

We don't detect forest fires with smoke detectors, but with gas sensors that we deploy in the forest. We have trained these sensors with the help of AI to detect typical gas mixtures that occur during the smouldering phase - the early phase of a forest fire. If there are characteristic changes in the gas composition, an alarm is sent out via a radio network that we also install in the forest. The data is transmitted to the internet via the mesh gateways of this network. Finally, they flow together in a cloud system, where they are analysed and processed. Via a web application, the user can see where the sensors are located in his forest area and what data they are sending out. In the event of an alarm, he is notified by e-mail or SMS. Thanks to the geo-coordinates of the sensor, the fire brigade can then be guided directly to the location of the smouldering fire via a Google Maps link, so that the fire is extinguished at a very early stage before it can spread.

What other applications are possible with Dryad?

We address both the public sector and private forest owners. In particular, private owners who operate commercial forest farms not only have an interest in preventing fires, but also in monitoring the health and growth of the forest over the years, because in this way timber production can be increased. Data on soil moisture, temperature or the girth of the trees, for example, are relevant for this. Since we use the open IoT communication standard LoRaWan, we can integrate numerous third-party sensors into our system for the automated collection of this data in order to make the data collected in this way available via our application.

How far have you got with the development of your product?

In the meantime, we have developed an MVP that we installed in a forest in Eberswalde, Brandenburg. Although it is only a prototype, it has been working very well and reliably since February. Now we are in the phase where we turn the prototype into a product that is also suitable for mass production, so that we can get to very low unit costs and roll out our system on a large scale.

Fire brigade intervention at a live demonstration of Dryad's solution in Eberswalde
Fire brigade intervention at a live demonstration of Dryad's solution in Eberswalde

What are the next goals for Dryad?

The product development phase should be completed this summer. After that, we want to start with the first proof of concepts in live environments. We already have ten LoIs from forest owners, nine of them in Germany, with forests of up to 7500 hectares. At the end of the year, a commercial product should be available so that we can start working with the first large customers in 2022.

How do you currently finance yourselves?

In September, we closed a seed funding round of 1.8 million euros. Now we are supported by Brandenburg Kapital, the local venture capital fund, by STIHL, the world market leader in forestry equipment, by the energy company LEAG and by an impact investor. Next year, our Series A financing is coming up.

How can 5-HT support you on your way?

We are very happy to receive advice and coaching in the field of marketing and communication, for example on how we can best present our company to customers, but also to investors. But it is also interesting for us to see whether there are potential sponsors, customers or cooperation partners for us in the 5-HT network. Since we rely on an indirect distribution concept, we are particularly open to contacts with companies from all over the world that would like to whitelabel our product and include it in their own portfolio.

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