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A Dunedin software start-up is taking the guesswork out of search and rescue missions using satellite tracking and the internet to keep tabs on boats, planes and road vehicles in the South Pacific region.

Daestra New Zealand is based at Dunedin's Centre for Innovation incubator and closed a first round of funding two months ago.

It now plans to take its service global, having secured a deal with US company EarthStar Geographics which gives it digital mapping for the entire planet.

Daestra's TracPlus service is already being used by helicopter rescue operators, such as the Auckland Helicopter Rescue Trust, which tracks the location of its helicopters using a global positioning module and satellite data link.

Daestra takes details on the helicopters' locations and feeds them over the internet into mapping software on computers in rescue co-ordination centres around the country.

TracPlus chief executive Chris Hinch said the core markets for the service were emergency services.

"New Zealand has been a perfect testing ground. We've got everything from the alps to desert. It's a long thin country and there are people working in dangerous areas," said Hinch who previously helped develop a flight simulator at Animation Research, the graphics company of fellow Dunedin IT entrepreneur Ian Taylor.

Hinch said the brains of the TracPlus service was the backend software that allowed data obtained from GPS devices to be stored, monitored and analysed. The data can even be plotted on commonly used applications like Google Earth and Google Maps. The TracPlus software creates rules which decide everything from how often data should be collected to what action should be taken if it shows abnormalities.

"If a yachtie is heading into bad weather, he can be monitored every hour instead of every six hours. If something goes wrong we send an SMS message to 27 cellphones or relay the message to a rescue co-ordination centre." he said.

"If a ferry exceeds a certain speed, which may have implications in areas with wake restrictions, we can send a message to the ferry owner."

While Hinch said satellite communications was notoriously expensive, the cost of TracPlus was low enough for small businesses and those working alone in dangerous conditions. An entry-level tracking terminal costs $2145 with the cost of the tracking service starting at $1 to $2 a day.

Daestra began as a consulting firm, but started developing TracPlus when it saw a gap for such services in New Zealand and abroad.

Hinch said events such as the search for the downed helicopter of liquor magnate Michael Erceg, and the disappearance of Australian kayaker Andrew McAuley, showed the benefits TracPlus could offer.

"In the case of Michael Ercig it wouldn't have changed the outcome but it would have avoided that long period of uncertainty for the family," said Hinch.

TracPlus works with a wide range of GPS and satellite receivers, though the service has a distinctly Kiwi feel to it with local hardware makers Prolificx and FlightCell International providing terminals for use with TracPlus. The service is currently based on mapping software from Wellington company Geographx.

"We designed TracPlus to be hardware independent," said Hinch. "We wanted to be able to take data from any device, store it, monitor it, take action on it."

Deals with satellite operators Inmarsat and Iridium ensured the service had global coverage. Data from devices is sent via satellite, or in some cases the mobile phone network, to a data centre in Sydney.

"There's nowhere in New Zealand we can host a mission critical centre. We will have multiple data centres around the world," said Hinch.

Satellite tracking for individuals wasn't fully developed yet but had potential use for plotting the location of hikers or people working in remote areas.

"Technically we can do it right now, but the device is limited in how small it can go for satellite."


* TracPlus is a satellite tracking system for land, air and sea vehicles.

* Its core market is emergency services.

* It allows vehicles' locations to be plotted on applications like Google Earth and monitored at rescue co-ordination centres.

* It has secured a deal with a US company to provide global digital mapping.