Back in the summer of 2009, we founded SilviaTerra with a vision of a future where foresters had easy access to all the information they needed to make superior decisions about forest management. Our flagship product, Timber Scout, is a remote-sensing forest inventory solution that grew out of co-founder Zack Parisa's research in Dr. Chad Oliver's lab at the Yale School of Forestry. Timber Scout allows forest managers to quickly get the high-quality information they need to best manage their lands, but we do require a limited amount of ground data to calibrate our satellite image analysis.
As a forestry technology company, we knew there had to be a better way than recording paper-and-pencil measurements in the field and then typing them up that night. We needed a simple, fast, and affordable way to electronically collect field data. To our dismay, the field data collection software out on the market was clunky, old-fashioned, and required expensive dedicated hardware.
Zack and I had just gotten new Android smartphones and they seemed like a perfect solution.
- No need to buy any extra hardware
- The phone had an accurate GPS (5-meter error) and compass
- The 3G/wireless internet connection allowed us to upload/download maps and plot data
- Automatic over-the-air software updates
- Good battery life
- Rugged enough (especially after a protective case and cover) to survive drops and falls out in the field.
I had done mobile development before, so I buckled down in the summer of 2010 and pumped out the first iteration of Plot Hound for Android devices. Originally, we just intended to use Plot Hound internally at SilviaTerra. Zack started using Plot Hound for our Timber Scout field data collection. As he used Plot Hound out in the field, he would frequently call me with suggestions for better ways to structure the app. That night, I would modify the Plot Hound program to fit Zack's (demanding!) specifications, push the changes out to the Android Market, and Zack's phone would be updated with the new Plot Hound version by the time he woke up in the morning. Plot Hound was quickly evolving into a lean, mean, cruising machine.
And then a funny thing happened. I checked the download numbers on the Android Market and Plot Hound had hundreds of downloads! Although we had originally built Plot Hound for internal use, it seemed like we had really identified a common pain point. More and more people kept downloading Plot Hound and we started to get requests for extra features, an iPhone version, and more.
Plot Hound 1.0 was a good start, but if Plot Hound was going to keep up with demand, we needed to fundamentally change some things. Plot Hound 2.0 is a total rewrite that keeps all the same functionality, but gives us a much better platform for moving forward.
How Can Plot Hound Be Free?
We want to establish SilviaTerra as the leader in high-tech solutions for the forestry industry. Instead of launching an expensive and annoying marketing campaign, we decided to build a great product and give it away for free to spread the word about our company. We charge a small fee for fancy reports (coming soon - volume calculations, pretty PDFs, etc.) and other advanced features, but downloading your normal cruise data is totally free.
Another important reason why we can give Plot Hound away for free is that we also anonymize the data collected with Plot Hound and use it to improve Timber Scout, our remote-sensing forest inventory solution. This allows us to expand Timber Scout coverage across the US quickly and efficiently to provide our customers with high quality, low cost forest inventory information. No one else sees your data and we never share your plot information with anyone outside the company.
Plot Hound 2.0 brings several improvements, including:
- Better navigation
- See the stand bounds on the map
- Add multiple trees at a time (helpful on pine plantations!)
We're always working hard to improve Plot Hound. If you select the "Allow automatic updating" option when you download Plot Hound, you'll get the newest changes automatically.
These are our latest plans:
- Better report downloads
- Statistical summary
- Height estimates
- Volume estimates
- Faster "All Species" loading
- Satellite images displayed on the plot map
We thrive on customer feedback, so if you have any thoughts, please send us an email at email@example.com.
Check out Steve Wilent's review of Plot Hound (Version 1) in the September edition of the Forestry Source.