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Dryad Networks gains funding for large-scale wildfire detection IoT network

Forest management startup gains seed fund to develop internet of things technology for what it says is the dawn of the digital forest

Environmental internet of things (IoT) startup Dryad Networks has secured seed funding of €1.8m to develop a large-scale IoT network for the ultra-early detection of wildfires, helping public and private forest owners monitor, analyse and protect the world’s largest and most remote environments.

Based in Berlin-Brandenburg, Dryad describes itself as an environmental IoT startup. Its mission is to develop a large-scale IoT network that can tackle the devastating impact of wildfires on the environment, wildlife and communities.

Dryad is led by co-founder, CEO and serial telco entrepreneur Carsten Brinkschulte, who has a track record in building and exiting high-growth businesses. The idea for a wireless IoT network to connect the natural world was conceived by Brinkschulte and co-founder Marco Bönig when the devastating fires ripped through the Amazon rainforest in 2019.

That year, forest fires generated 7.8 billion tonnes of CO2 – almost 20% of the annual global emissions from the burning of fossil fuels – while decimating one of the planet’s most important carbon sinks. Wildfires also account for the displacement of tens of thousands of people, approximately $5bn of direct fire-fighting costs and over $100bn of economic damage globally every year.

Dryad’s initial focus is to develop a system for the ultra-early detection of wildfires. The team successfully tested a minimum viable product in a forest in Germany in May 2020, and has since secured 10 letters of intent from forest owners in Germany and Africa. In September 2020, it secured seed funding of €1.8m and opened for business.

Using what it claims to be “ground-breaking” technology innovations, Dryad’s large-scale IoT solution uses a network of sensors for ultra-early detection of wildfires in under 60 minutes even in remote areas, prompting a faster response than existing systems.

Environmental IoT startup Dryad's system uses a network of sensors for ultra-early detection of wildfires

The system comprises solar-powered sensors that use artificial intelligence (AI) to detect gases emitted in the smouldering stage of a wildfire, as well as temperature, humidity and air pressure; gateways featuring Dryad’s patent-pending distributed mesh architecture – an extension to the LoRaWAN open standard for long-range radio IoT networks; and a cloud-based dashboard to analyse and monitor a wide range of indicators and alert forest managers.

Gateways interconnect in a multi-hop mesh network, making it possible to cover very large forests, rather than the real-world 12km range supported by other LoRaWAN gateways. This, it said, is the key technology to making the system economically viable to build a communications network for large forests where there is no mobile network coverage. Dryad border gateways at the edge of the network connect to wireless (LTE/NB-IoT), satellite or wired internet to access the Dryad cloud platform.

Dryad compares its solution’s capability with camera and satellite-based solutions which it argues can take several hours or even days to identify a fire because they rely on the smoke plume developing enough to be detected from a long distance. This is said to make it far more difficult, or even impossible, for firefighters to contain the outbreak. Moreover, Dryad insists that emerging solutions based on the NarrowBand-Internet of Things (NB-IoT) standard are not practical for large-scale and remote forests where the cost of building a LTE/4G network is prohibitive.

“Our vision is to deliver an effective communications architecture for even the most remote forests and make sub-one-hour wildfire detection the new reality”
Carsten Brinkschulte, Dryad Networks

The notion of the intelligent forest is now coming of age, insisted Brinkschulte. “Our vision is to deliver an effective communications architecture for even the most remote forests and make sub-one-hour wildfire detection the new reality,” he observed. “Using a solar-powered, distributed mesh IoT network capable of covering vast expanses of forest where mobile network coverage is lacking will radically transform the way forests can be monitored and managed.”

The four investors participating in the seed round are Stihl Digital, the investor arm of the Stihl chainsaw multinational; German energy firm LEAG; impact investor ISAR AG; and venture capital firm Brandenburg Kapital.

“We invest in transformational digital startups that share our ambitions,” remarked Stihl’s managing director, digital, Tim Gegg. “The team at Dryad Networks impressed us with its plans for an innovative IoT platform to digitise forests and help protect the natural world. We are enthusiastic about our role as an early-stage investor and collaboration partner.”

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