It's all about 'location, location' for Daestra

It's all about 'location, location' for Daestra

Otago-based Daestra could be on the verge of becoming a global success story in the burgeoning tracking market with its product Tracplus. The company hopes the product will prove the worth of its technology platform for others seeking similar success.

Technology and software industry veteran Chris Hinch formed Daestra in 2003 and built the Vertigo platform, designed for quick development of data telemetry applications.

“We knew we had to prove the technology for ourselves by building Tracplus using Vertigo. Most of the people who use it (Tracplus) are in very challenging situations, like rescue pilots, so proving it has good proof of concept also stands us in good stead for marketing.”

The global telemetry business is booming, Hinch says, citing predictions it will become a $10 billion industry in the US by 2012. Combined with the growing number of cellphones and devices that gather and relay data, and the increasing number of networks being built, market conditions for Vertigo and the Tracplus product seem to be ripe.

Hinch says Vertigo could have hundreds of applications, effectively wherever there is a need to gather data and get it out to users in other locations.

Vertigo also overcomes the large up-front costs creators of these types of new applications would typically face, before they make money from what they’ve developed, he says.

“All of the infrastructure and middleware is provided, on a mission-critical, high-availability basis. For a solution developer they can focus on the 20 percent of their product that is market facing.”

Three local projects based on Vertigo are underway, one in the environmental monitoring area, though it’s too early for Daestra to make them public. However, Hinch hopes they will join Tracplus as showcase examples of what Vertigo can enable.

Tracplus uses installed terminals that use GPS to locate the vehicle, ship or aircraft, and then transmits that information through cellular and satellite networks to Daestra’s datacentre in Australia. Users then connect to the hosted service using a variety of client applications for monitoring and management.

It was originally designed to enhance search and rescue operations, allowing both users and rescuers to share their position with emergency response coordination services. The majority of New Zealand helicopter rescue operators are using Tracplus, as is the Rescue Coordination Centre.

The company claims a 99.999 percent guarantee on uptime for its database server, or less than six minutes of unscheduled downtime each year. Hinch says this level of availability is essential given the nature of the industries Daestra supports.

Hardware independence is a big point of difference for Tracplus, as Hinch says most tracking products tie hardware closely to the system. Users choose their own hardware and network provider to run the service.

Hinch’s passion for aviation and rescue operations was one reason for forming the company. On an exchange to the US in the 1970s, he says his host father was one of the first crew members supporting pilots who retrieved motor accident victims. His family in New Zealand also has a background in aviation.

These interests are combined with a technology background that began with selling Apple computers in the early 1980s and a switch to software design and development.

“I didn’t last very long as a salesman,” he says. “I found out I preferred solving problems through development and design rather than through sales.”

Prior to his current role heading Daestra, he worked at Animation Research, the company behind real-time sports graphics applications such as Virtual Eye.

Beginning as Pathfinder Technologies, the name changed to Daestra last year. It’s based on the Latin phrase de astra - ‘of the stars’ - a reference to its technology focus and bringing remote data together.

The company remained a one-man-band in its early years and focused on consulting. However, the need for more consistent income forced a re-think.

“In consultancy you’re always looking for the next project and it’s always a feast or a famine. We realised we had to change the business model to look for ongoing revenue streams.”

Costs vary according to the capability of the terminals used and how often information is transmitted. Purchase prices vary between $2145 and $7666, excluding monthly charges.

Daestra has recently partnered with US-based Earthstar Geographics, so it can offer global satellite imagery and expand internationally.

The company already has users in Australia and expects growth there, as well as in other markets in the Middle East and the US.

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