Knowledge Transfer Office

Air Button Technology Limited

A “shortcut button” for a button-less world

One of the biggest problems facing smartphone users today is figuring out how to simplify the increasingly complex device.

Air Button Technology Ltd., a Hong Kong-based team, provides a simple and powerful solution. Their product, the Air Button, is a small tactile, clickable one- to two-“button” sticker that can be applied directly to the back of an Android smartphone. Through their custom app, users can then personalize their button(s) to activate, when pressed, a workflow of features and functions simultaneously with one simple click, allowing quick and easy access to their most frequently-used smartphone commands.

The “Air” component refers to the technology itself. Using passive RFID technology, the Air Button is completely battery-less and wireless, making it cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

Inspired by the past; designing for modernity

While this technology is most frequently used for selfie, CEO and inventor of Air Button, Oswis Wong, first came up with the idea for it in 2012 after he realized how complicated using a smartphone could be, especially to the older generation.

“My grandmother and parents always ask me how to use their smartphones,” says Wong, explaining that he wanted to make a “shortcut button” for his parents, which is how the Air Button was born.

With over 30 functions available, including popular ones like direct calling and “Selfie Mode,” the possibilities for Air Button are endless and adaptable. The design was carefully hand-picked out of more than 50 drafted by the team’s designer.

“It features a mountain to mountain, wave to wave design,” explains Wong, pointing to the raised button, which began in its original design as large as a standard sheet of paper. The tactile element of the button itself – “the touch,” as Wong calls it – was also important. This attention to quality and detail paid off: in 2015, the Air Button design won a place in the prestigious Top 100 GOOD Design Awards in Japan.

Looking ahead, the company plans to expand the product to control a broader range of devices. Wong calls it “a control for everything”: a universal button controller where simply “pointing your phone to some devices” will allow you to control it.

It’s all about the timing

As a technology start-up, Wong and his partner/COO David Lam have already seen much success. The team received initial funding from the Cyberport Creative Micro Fund (CCMF) in 2012 and subsequent funding from the government-sponsored Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities (TSSSU) through the Knowledge Transfer Office (KTO) of City University of Hong Kong (CityU). Both opportunities helped position the team to file the patent for Air Button in early 2014 and achieve overwhelming success from their Fall 2015 Kickstarter campaign, through which they raised over $22,000USD in one month, exceeding their target of $15,000. When asked about their most successful moment, Wong pointed to when they were finally able to ship over 2,000 Air Buttons worldwide to their Kickstarter backers.

Despite never meeting while they were both studying at CityU until 2012, Wong and Lam share similar backgrounds and quickly formed a partnership after first connecting at the CCMF competition. Nowadays, they complement each other well in their work: Wong handles innovation and commercialization while Lam is in charge of business development and operations.

Lessons learned

Despite this being both Wong and Lam’s second enterprise, they both learn a lot on the job, especially when it comes to making difficult decisions that align with their company’s mission and goals.

“Start-ups are not stable, they’re too risky,” says Lam, “it’s very nerve-wracking. Because now that we have more employees, we cannot just be concerned about ourselves.” Aside from running the business, they spend a lot of time working on employee development and training.

Entrepreneurship has been more than rewarding for the pair. Wong says the best part of the job is being able to do what he’s interested in.

“I enjoy my work every day,” he says, “because I’m highly motivated in building our product and using our innovation to help people.”

Lam agrees, adding a note of caution. He advises young people seeking entrepreneurship opportunities to think carefully about their decisions: “Do your own research before you start. It sounds easy but you need to know what work you are capable of before you can establish yourself.”

(Published on 28 July 2016)

Hands Life Science Limited

Co-founders, scientists,…university students?!

Marco So, Ronald Tse, Paul Chi, Ada Yeung are the four co-founders of Hands Life Science, which is a biotech company developing a novel production system for DHA, the active ingredient in fish oil, with a special chemical structure that enables superior absorption compared to current sources. It is worth noting that these four start-up co-founders are preparing for their graduation this summer at City University of Hong Kong (CityU).

Yes, that’s right. Marco, Ronald, Paul, and Ada are still undergraduate students. It’s not every day that you meet start-up co-founders who are only 21.

These precocious co-founders first met while working on the 12-person team representing CityU at the 2014 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. Their project focused on engineering bacteria to create useful DHA, an essential nutrient that helps brain and eye development in babies and cardiovascular health in adults.

After the competition ended, the four decided to continue exploring the possibilities of engineering DHA for the good of public consumers.

Starting a business from “knowing nothing”

The road to starting their own company has been paved with many challenges. After forming the team, they realized that they “knew nothing,” according to Marco So – “about filing for a patent, running a business, getting funding, opening a company – everything!”

They got to work right away, connecting with the Office of Education Development and Gateway Education (EDGE) and Knowledge Transfer Office (KTO), going on to successfully receive funding from the Idea Incubator Scheme in 2015 and from the government-sponsored Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities (TSSSU) in 2016 at CityU.

The team is grateful for the help of the various departments at CityU for helping them along this journey.

“All the different skills – writing a business plan, preparing for the pitch presentation – we all learned from different departments at CityU, like the KTO and English Learning Center,” says So.

The biggest challenges for Hands Life Science is being adaptable to the scientific process at this early stage, especially at making changes at various points of their research, which they’ve had to do many times.

“The first thing is to admit that you’re wrong, then figure out a plan,” emphasizes So. “If you care very much about being right or wrong, you should quit science.”

Solving a global problem

The main project for Hands Life Science now is developing a high-quality, more cost-efficient DHA production system that uses micro-organisms instead of harvesting DHA from fish and algae.

DHA from algae oil, the most expensive source, can cost up to $300HKD for 30 pills and last only a half to one month. On the other hand, cheaper DHA from fish oil can sometimes be unsuitable to babies and pregnant women because of lower quality and higher risk of pollution. As So describes, the system they are currently testing produces DHA with a different chemical structure compared to the sources above, which is more absorbable and less prone to oxidation. The system also has the cost-cutting features of utilizing photosynthesis while current algae oil productions do not. Broad strokes aside, So and his team are keeping the rest of their project under wraps – “trade secrets,” he says with a smile.

The Hands Life Science team sees the lack of ultra-absorbable and affordable DHA in the current market as a significant problem that can be solved through science, and all four have committed to the company full-time following graduation, hoping to create something meaningful out of their shared expertise.

“You need to have a passion for solving this problem,” So says. “For us, the problem is the quality and cost of DHA – not everyone in the world can afford this basic essential nutrient, and we believe that health should not be a luxury.”

He advises those considering starting a tech company to also “find a mission and a problem you really want to go for.”

For these young entrepreneurs, the future is looking bright. Their ambition is to produce a small-scale prototype within one year, with the long-term goal of commercially producing the ultra-absorbable DHA or licensing the technology.

For now, they are excited about working together on a project they are all passionate about – and the possibility of making the world a better place.

“We want to contribute to the world,” So concludes. “We want to create something meaningful and beneficial to the public.”

(Published on 1 August 2016)

Kung Fu Motion Limited

Bridging past and present through technology

Imagine, for a moment, the classic image of a Kung Fu Old Master standing in his martial arts studio, critiquing a student’s movements before him with close attention.

Now, imagine the same scene now taking place over social media. The Old Masters peering at his smartphone, watching a video of a student’s martial arts practice, and offering comments in the same WeChat conversation they both belong to.

This second scene, although less nostalgic, is the way of the future, according to Hing Chao, founder of Kung Fu Motion Limited, which focuses on using motion capture technology in martial arts preservation efforts.

“Members of the Kung Fu community are actually very keen on embracing new technology that will enable learning to be more effective,” says Chao.

A start-up by social responsibility

The ability to protect this learning process is precisely the purpose behind Kung Fu Motion Limited’s current main project, the Hong Kong Martial Arts Living Archive, a groundbreaking world’s first collection of digital 3D motion capture footage of all the “forms” of traditional Chinese martial arts in Hong Kong.

The desire to document the movements of martial arts came out of Chao’s findings in as early as 2009 that many of the Old Masters in Hong Kong were finding it difficult to pass on their craft to students (typically, the traditional way of preserving the martial arts.) With a busier pace of life and less time to practice for many students, the Kung Fu community fears that many of the traditional forms will gradually disappear with the last of the Old Masters. That’s when Chao took it upon himself to ensure this intangible culture would be preserved and not lost to the ages.

In 2012, the Martial Arts Living Archive project was first formed in partnership with City University of Hong Kong (CityU) and Chao’s own non-profit, International Guoshu Association, which organized the Hong Kong International Kung Fu Festival in 2009 and hosts many other conferences, exhibits, symposia in Hong Kong to spark interest in the martial arts. Since 2014, Kung Fu Motion Limited has successfully received three consecutive years of funding from the government-sponsored Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities (TSSSU) through CityU’s Knowledge Transfer Office (KTO). Over 120 sets of martial arts movements have already been documented in 3D motion capture, with a set of movements ranges in length anywhere between 45 seconds to 10-15 minutes each.

Selected data from Kung Fu Motion Limited’s motion capture archive will be on display at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in the fall of 2016, in the world's very first digital Chinese martial arts exhibition (event details please click HERE). To give back to its supporter, the exhibition will also be showcased in the new-built gallery at CityU from October to November 2016. More of their work will be shown at The Design Society's new museum in Shenzhen in summer 2017.

Chao is hoping this exhibit will draw interest from potential parties for developing immersive learning programs, commercialization in films and computer games – as Chao says, “the sky’s the limit, really.”

Cutting edge technology in the traditional arts

Because of the intersection Kung Fu Motion Limited works at – using rapidly developing technology toward intangible cultural preservation – Chao finds their project often at the cutting edge of this evolving technology. The start-up, as a result, is in a unique position to contribute to adapting technology to best enhance the appreciation and preservation of the traditional arts.

The actual motion capture process is technologically complex: donning special motion capture suits with “markers” attached at various key positions, Old Masters of various martial arts perform in front of motion capture cameras. The movements of the markers are then processed as data-points and rendered in 3D on computers.

However, in order for this to be a holistic preservation of the Kung Fu styles – since all traditional arts exist outside of being mere data or a set of physical moves – the Living Archive also relies heavily on oral narrations from the Masters themselves explaining the intent, meaning, and significance of their styles. These Old Masters, who, as Chao points out, have obtained the status of being the “central authorities” and guardians of their Kung Fu style from “a lifetime of dedication and practice,” are just as vital to the project as the technology itself.

The application of capturing traditional arts with its intricate movements pushes the further development of the technology, just as the motion capture industry benefits the Kung Fu tradition.

With Kung Fu Motion Limited’s work, Chao hopes that there will be a breakdown in time and space, with martial arts practitioners from all over the world being able to access the best of martial arts practice in Hong Kong’s Kung Fu community, increasing the “connectivity between masters and the knowledge people want to learn.”

Like seeing Old Masters offering critiques on their smartphones, the future of Kung Fu will allow for entirely new possibilities of looking at these traditional arts.

*Photo credits belong to CityU Centre for Applied Computing and Interactive Media (ACIM)

(Published on 28 July 2016)

MindLayer Limited

Automatic – yet human – customer service

A motivated auto-didact and energetic multi-tasker, start-up founder Kinni Mew has the classic DNA of a successful tech industry leader – so it’s no wonder that his company, MindLayer Limited, has already seen much success even in the prototype stage.

Mew explains the concept behind MindLayer as “an intelligent layer between the business and the customers.” The MindLayer Customer Service Platform is a Natural Language Processing (NLP) software that enables customers to receive immediate automated responses to their queries through mobile messaging apps, such as WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Weibo, etc.

To show how the app works, Kinni Mew pulls out his phone and types out a question to a Travel Bot contact – built on the MindLayer platform – on his Facebook Messenger app, asking about cheap tickets to Taiwan. Right away, the bot responds with a friendly greeting and presents different options, also in text message form. The whole process feels organic, like texting a real travel assistant on the other end.

Mew refers to his product as “AI (artificial intelligence) as a service.” As MindLayer develops further, it has the potential to revolutionize the customer service industry, changing the way we interact with companies and obtain our information from businesses. MindLayer re-imagines whole automated customer service experience as more humanized while being more efficient.

“IT needs to serve the general public,” explains Mew. “My mother doesn’t know how to Google, but she knows how to do everything in instant messaging. AI should be embedded in everyday life as the most convenient way.”

A platform for its times

Mew came up with the idea of MindLayer while trying to solve a real-life problem he encountered. As a side project a few years ago, he built several mobile app solutions that he tried to sell. But with a busy full-time work schedule, he couldn’t handle customer service inquiries and lost many customers as a result.

“I started thinking,” Mew recounts, “if there was a machine that can handle customers, that would be fantastic.”

After winning $100,000HKD in seed funding through the Cyberport Creative Micro-Fund (CCMF) in 2015 and further funding support from the government-sponsored Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities (TSSSU) program through CityU in 2016, MindLayer was born.

Mew believes that the market is ripe for a platform like MindLayer, as consumers in the “post-app era” turn less to apps and more towards social media.

“There must be an easy way for people to get access to what they want,” says Mew, “and conversational experience – through messaging – is the best way.”

Exciting competition and developments

Mew sees the company as playing an important role in empowering developers to meet a pressing need: “we want to turn other people’s creativity into something real, in order to help them enhance the user experience.”

While MindLayer currently targets developers, Mew envisions moving towards a self-service model in the near future, where companies and end-users alike can use the MindLayer platform to build their custom “AI engines” to help with daily customer service needs.

Major players in the tech industry have already turned their attention to developing similar technology, with Google and Apple building and enhancing their own automated services in the last year. Many smaller competitors are trying to tap into the under-developed Chinese and Cantonese market as well, which, according to Mew, is the most difficult language for NLP software, given the lack of spacing between words.

Despite the big name competitors, Mew is optimistic about MindLayer’s next steps: “We want to be a technically-driven company. To create the standards for this trend, not just follow the trend. This is the future, and I want to build it.”

MindLayer has been just selected to join the DBS Accelerator Programme to innovate the banking experience with the leading edge technology.

(Published on 1 August 2016)