The bigger picture
CEO Frederic Petrini-Monteferri; Photo credit: Laserdata
If you have been fined for driving over the speed limit lately, it is likely your illegal act was detected by LiDAR (Laser Detection and Ranging) technology, which uses a laser beam to establish the exact distance between the object and the laser-scanner. Nowadays, this widespread method of measuring distances by laser is also used for mapping landscapes, forests or even whole cities and countries. Frederic Petrini-Monteferri, the Managing Director of Innsbruck-based Laserdata GmbH, and his co-workers have found more friendly and useful applications for laser-scanning technology and the interpretation of its data.
Yes, we scan – and that’s a good thing
“A laser scanner can be mounted on all sorts of vehicles,” Petrini explains. “From an aeroplane, entire countries can be scanned – in fact, all of Austria is already laser-scanned. If you use a car or a stationary scanner, you get detailed information from a ground-level point-of-view.” While laser scanning delivers extremely precise data about our surroundings, it also poses several problems for those who want to make use of the information.
The main problem with the raw data – which experts call the “point cloud” – is there is so much of it. This is where Laserdata steps on the playing field. “Extracting useful information out of the point cloud with the help of intelligent software is our core competence.” says Petrini. “We not only offer our customers professional interpretation of the data, but we also develop and sell customised software packages to those who want to do the analysis and administration of the data themselves.”
A good spot to be in
Petrini’s Bavarian accent betrays his origins, but having followed his professor from Munich to the University of Innsbruck, in order to finish his diploma thesis in geography, he has settled into the Tyrolean capital comfortably, both personally and with his business. “Bavarians and Tyroleans get along splendidly with each other due to their similar attitude towards life, so I feel quite at home,” he observes. “As a small or mid-sized company, it is generally good to be in Austria, because you do not have to compete with Goliath-like corporations at every turn. It’s a fair and almost familiar atmosphere in which most players are at eye-level with each other. Additionally, Innsbruck is a fruitful environment for geodata-businesses like ours: There are partners like the ‘alpS’ research centre, with which we work closely, as well as the university faculties.” Two years ago, the holding company of the University of Innsbruck partnered with Laserdata GmbH.
The connection between academia and business comes quite naturally for us, the one benefits from the other.
His jobs at the universities of Innsbruck and Stuttgart (where Petrini works as a part-time lecturer) complement the business, he says. “One thing we do here at Laserdata is to take scientific findings and develop them into useful services for our customers or new features of our software. The connection between academia and business comes quite naturally for us, the one benefits from the other.”
After earning his Geography degree, Petrini stayed in Innsbruck and started working for a satellite-data analysing company. He remembers working in a small team and gathering insights into all the aspects of the business, from acquisition to project management. “Those were valuable lessons that I put to good use when Laserdatawas founded in 2007. It was not such a huge leap of faith to take.” As CEO of Laserdata, Petrini assembled a team of three people he knew and trusted, a team that still is the backbone of the company. “I never considered myself a lone fighter; Laserdata was then and is now all about networking.”
What it takes
Looking back to 2007, Petrini remembers how helpful the grant from the AplusB programme CAST (Center for Acadamic Spinoffs Tyrol) was. “Applying for a grant like that is advisable for young entrepreneurs. It definitely got us started and made it possible for us to take our minds off the money for a while in order to focus on acquiring business,” he says.
“I would describe the first months as constantly challenging. You take in the lessons every start-up has to learn, including the hard truth that maybe one in five prospects actually turns into a project.“ He also learned that it pays off to walk the extra mile and that he could trust his business instincts.
An example for the evaluation of a road infrastructure; Photo credit: Laserdata
Petrini and his team successfully managed to find customers, some of whom are still with Laserdata. Among the first was the provincial government of Italy’s South Tyrol, followed later by the authorities of Carinthia, the Swiss canton of Basel and the city of Vienna. “It makes sense for governmental entities and local authorities to approach us. They have a logical interest to find out about, for example, the potential of solar power in their region and where to put up solar panels for maximum efficiency.” Laser-scanning can deliver that information, but only if the data are properly interpreted.Laserdata’s software – based upon an open-source product called SAGA GIS (System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses – Geographic Information System) – delivers exactly such interpretation. Apart from determining solar-power potential, it can be used to analyse how much of a region consists of houses and forest, leading to more precise land registers. With such data, one could even find out of how much plant biomass or harvestable wood a forest consists of, or get an exact count and measurements of the trees and buildings.
“The future looks bright,” says Petrini. “We are developing into a more international company and, through success and continuous networking, our reputation is growing,” he claims. Among the next targets for Laserdata are a bundling of the software and diversification of services.
In October 2014, Laserdata and its partner, STEPS e.U., were awarded the Tyrolean chamber of commerce’s “Innovationspreis” (read more here) for its project VERTISOL, the first detailed analysis for solar-power-potential that not only takes roofs of houses into account, but entire building facades. “ Receiving the award was a bright moment for us – in that spirit of innovation, we move on.”
This story is brought to you in partnership with AplusB, a programme funded by FFG.