No 8 Ventures backs ike's $2 million push into US

Wellington tech company Surveylab's ideas have "huge potential worldwide", according to Jenny Morel, head of investment company No 8 Ventures.

Surveylab makes ike, a handheld data capture device for use in the field. Ike allows data on geographically-distributed resources to be collected and then mapped into a geographical information system (GIS).

No 8 has invested NZ$2 million in Surveylab, primarily to aid a marketing push in the US. The armed forces are seen as a major market for the device, although it would also be useful for utility companies.

Surveylab is No 8's first Wellington investment, although No 8 was founded in the capital six years ago. Surveylab's chairman and major investor is Rex Nicholls, a Wellington City councillor and the husband of Wellington mayor, Kerry Prendergast.

Ike consists of a GPS receiver, digital camera, laser distance meter, digital compass, inclinometer (for measuring vertical angle of the target point above or below the observer), handheld PC and digital storage. This mix of technologies allows it to record the location of an item, a photographic image of (if appropriate) and the item's attributes. All this is then stored in a relational database.

Morel concedes that ike invites imitation, but says its intellectual property is well-protected.

No 8 Ventures invested in Surveylab because it occupies a leading position in the increasingly important field of geographical information systems, says Morel.

"You only have to look at Google Earth to see the huge potential of GIS. These guys have developed a key device that fits into that world and they've done it first. Anyone who comes along afterwards will have to take care not to trip over Surveylab patents."

Military application may be the most obvious, says Morel, but the potential range of uses for ike is much wider.

The US military's Engineer Research and Development Centre has already adopted the device and has used in three projects: tracking and mapping TNT contamination at the Elwood Ordnance Plant in Joliet, Illinois; in the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal, to track underwater sensors that record voltage emitted from an electrical fish barrier; and for a survey of the Cape Canaveral lighthouse. For this project, ike was loaded with historic map data and researchers used the projected location to identify the buried brick foundation of the lighthouse and outlying structures.

For US military use the ike (I know everything) has been rechristened Hammer (Hand-held Apparatus for Mobile Mapping and Expedited Reporting).

Surveylab has already achieved a lot, says Morel.

"We hope this [NZ$2 million] investment will allow them to develop the sales and marketing side of the company to realise the potential of this great product they have developed and to capitalise on the considerable interest they have already generated both within and outside New Zealand."

There is local interest in ike too, with the New Zealand Defence Force examining ike. It is expected to place a major order shortly. This will be another marketing plus internationally as NZDF is regarded as a GIS technology pioneer.

Surveylab has also sold ikes to Canada, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Africa, Europe, Asia, India and Australia.

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