Is there a need for an app to count annual rings?

Is there a need for an app to count annual rings?

When you manage your forest, age plays a big role. Are the trees too old or young to be felled? How well does your forest grow, is it time to do a thinning or is it already too late.

To find out, you can either create a drill core by using an increment borer and then count the annual rings manually. You can also cut down the tree and look at the cross-section of the wood or stump. There is some PC-programs that counts the age automatically on a cross-section.

The dream would be to have a tool that you just pressed against the trunk of the tree and that counted the annual rings automatically. But there is no such tool and until then we have to solve it in another way.

We have been thinking for some time about building an app for photographing drill cores and counting annual rings.

Here is some reasons why we would build such an app: 

  • Several people have told me that they would really need some help with counting the annual rings.
  • A lot of annual rings are counted today. The Haglöfs Company has said that they sell 5,000 increment borers annually.
  • It is difficult to calculate the age of drill cores, sometimes a magnifying glass is needed.
  • Camera technology in mobile phones has improved a lot in recent years.
  • It would be a fun challenge to build such an app.

What speaks against building an app is:

  • It will be difficult to get a working business model for an app like this. It is unclear what forest owners and forest companies are willing to pay for an app like this.
  • It is a very niche product, the number of users will never be very large.
  • It is always more complicated than you first think.

There is some pros and cons but we think that we will make a try because of:

  • We are bootstrapped and resource efficient.
  • We are a small team, with experience in building mobile applications.
  • We have thousands of users of our other apps, some of them are probably interested in being able to count annual rings. We should thus be able to reach out to potential users.

To minimize the risk of building an app that provides small value to users, we intend to build it in two steps.

The first step is to build an app to photograph annual rings and count them manually with some digital support. By tagging each image with name and GPS position, you can collect data in the forest and then count the annual rings later. It will be a so-called MVP (simplest possible product that provides value for the user).

If it works technically to photograph annual rings on drill cores and it is appreciated by the users, we can continue with step 2.

The second step is to count the annual rings with ai. If we collect some pictures from drill cores photographed with the app, we can use it to train an ai. Today, there are pc-software that calculate annual rings on polished cross-sections of a tree.

Drill cores are not as pleasant to use because they are dirtier and more uneven. Therefore, it will be a technical challenge to succeed in this.

Next article (will be published next week):

– How well do today’s iPhone cameras work to photograph drill cores?

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