Cloud-based wildfire tech company Dryad hopes to douse blazes before they start

Wildfires are in the news again with smoke from fires in Canada spreading across the border to the Northeastern U.S. to the Midwest, and flames licking California, Western Spain and the Amazon rainforest.

Meanwhile companies are attempting to stop blazes before they even start using tech such as LTE, WANs, cloud, mesh networks and sensors.

One German startup, Dryad Networks GmbH, specializes in ultra-early forest fire detection using LoRaWAN-based gas sensors that utilize mesh networking to cover thousands of square kilometers with the small solar-powered units. The sensors link back to border gateways that connect to the internet via a Starlink satellite connection or LTE, Carsten Brinkschulte, co-founder and CEO of Dryad Networks, told Silverlinings on a call.

Once the LoRaWAN IoT sensor network is set up, third-party sensors can be brought in to detect other environmental conditions, according to the CEO. "The data that they send ends up in our cloud platform,” Brinkschulte said. “Our cloud platform then becomes a data hub for providing access to that data, which we acquire, to your other applications, using APIs."

Dryad, which connects to Amazon Web Services for its cloud services, is aiming for sub-one hour fire detection in wildland-urban interface areas — or areas where "humans intersect with nature,” he said, noting that this is where 85% of fires start.

Beyond active fire detection

While detecting fires is a key application for the company, Brinkschulte said the company's Internet of Trees platform, also continuously monitors the micro-climate of the forest. "Every sensor sends every two hours [readings] of the temperature, humidity, air pressure and air quality. So you basically get a very fine-grained overview of the micro-climate in the forest," he said.

Demand for the company's gas sensors is on fire, pun intended. Brinkschulte said the company began shipping them at the end of last year and has already sold about 10,000 units, and just manufactured another 20,000 units. In addition, Dryad already has components for another 200,000 units.

The startup is also manufacturing gateways which it plans to provide to customers such as CAL FIRE and PGE in the next few months. 

“One of the biggest prospects we have is CAL FIRE,” Brinkschulte said. He noted that CAL FIRE is currently conducting a pilot with 400 Dryad sensors in the Jackson State Forest.

In addition, he said, “We’re working with PGE in California to prevent their power lines from creating fires,” the CEO said. Dryad has additional prospects in the U.S. and Canada, Europe, and parts of South America like Chile.

Sensors are the key to Dryad's success

What sets Dryad apart from the pack is its sensors because most of the companies are active in wildfire detection use cameras or satellites rather than sensors, according to Brinkschulte.

“I think [cameras] are not fast enough, they can detect fires, but at a point where it is too late to extinguish the fires,” the CEO said. “We have seen an [request for information (RFI)] from the USDA that explicitly asked for a combined solution of cameras and sensors,” he added. Dryad partnered with a distributor called Climate Tech to answer the RFI with cameras and sensors.

Dryad's 2020 seed round raised $10.9 million (€10 million) from four investors: STIHL Digital, the corporate venture arm of the STIHL Group; German energy firm LEAG; impact investor ISAR AG; and the VC firm Brandenburg Kapital, a subsidiary of Brandenburger Förderbank ILB.

Brinkschulte said the company intends to raise a second round later this year.