Treeswift, a Philadelphia-based startup that has spun out of the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Laboratory, has secured $4.8 million in seed funding to build a drone-based forest monitoring system.
Treeswift’s LiDAR-equipped drones are capable of navigating under the forest canopy independently. So, unlike satellite or aerial imagery that forest researchers typically rely on, these drones can collect terabytes of data from the ground up at unprecedented detail. The drone-based approach is also 10x faster compared to manual processes wherein foresters go out into the woods, earmark samples of land, calculate the trees by hand using a tape measure, and extrapolate the sample numbers into estimates about forest size and biomass.
Once Treeswift’s drones collect the data, advanced machine learning algorithms come into play to create high-resolution 3D forest reconstructions. These 3D maps display the finest details of every tree structure, and can be analyzed for precise, quantifiable measurements of any forest’s biomass.
Some possible applications of this data include inventory calculation for the timber industry, mapping forests for preservation, and measuring forest biomass and fuel to prevent the spread of wildfires.
As Ryan Gembala, whose company Pathbreaker Ventures led Treeswift’s seed funding round, says:
Treeswift’s solution is able to measure the natural world in a way never before possible. The implications for commercial forestry, carbon capture, and more are profound. I expect the data from their deployments to become a foundation for the biggest opportunities in nature-based solutions and management over the upcoming decades.
Who’s using forest data captured by Treeswift drones?
Treeswift is currently deploying or piloting with commercial forest companies such as Molpus Woodlands Group, Superior Pine Products Company, and Weyerhaeuser Company where they are estimating forest timber quantity and carbon volumes.
Explaining that “understanding and accurately maintaining timber inventories play an important part in managing clients’ forests to their potential,” Randy Taylor, a senior director at Molpus Woodlands Group, says his team has been particularly impressed with Treeswift’s ability to accurately allocate trees into product classes and to identify stem quality issues impacting value.
Taylor’s thoughts are echoed by Scott Griffin, president and CEO of Georgia-based Superior Pine Products Company. Forest inventory collection is an enormous part of Griffin’s business, so the company is always looking for ways to improve. And Treeswift’s solution is allowing the timber cruisers at Superior Pine Products to collect more actionable data than ever before with fewer boots on the ground. As Griffin puts it:
Not only have I been impressed with how much faster and more accurate it is to collect data from our forests, I’m equally impressed with the professionalism and know-how of the Treeswift management team.