[Startup Interview] CEO Byung-hwan Lee of ‘SkyLabs’, a startup developing a ring type cardio monitoring platform CART-I that detects Atrial Fibrillation

The company we will meet today is SkyLabs, a startup developing an AI-based cardio monitoring platform CART-I. SkyLabs monitors atrial fibrillation through a ring-type cardio tracker CART-I, and provides services using stored data in the ring. As a global company collaborating with foreign countries like Germany, SkyLabs is expanding into a global healthcare company.

Let’s meet CEO Byung-hwan Lee of SkyLabs!

Please briefly introduce yourself and SkyLabs.

SkyLabs provides services and platforms that treats and manages patients with chronic diseases outside the hospital. The first product developed by SkyLabs to accomplish this is CART-I, a wearable medical device that can simply be worn in our daily lives. Atrial fibrillation is monitored using CART-I to collect cardiac signals used in diagnosis and monitoring, and analyzes the data with cloud server-based deep learning methods.

Before I founded SkyLabs, I led the world’s first development of 5G mobile communication technology at Samsung Electronics. You could say that the flower of electrical engineering in the 20th and 21st centuries is mobile/wireless communication field, and I have gained deep knowledge and experience in signal processing through developing the world’s best technologies and products.

With the know-hows and skills gained at Samsung Electronics, CEO Lee successfully created an atrial fibrillation monitoring wearable device CART-I. CART-I not only monitors, but also provides a platform that guides users to future treatment. As wearable devices are being widely used, CART-I and its services will become easily accessible to anyone.

How did SkyLabs decide on CART-I as its startup product?

I personally have an experience of going to the emergency room due to atrial fibrillation symptoms. After spending a night in ER, I returned home without I felt the need to be more aware of atrial fibrillation and diagnose symptoms. The need for a platform that monitors chronic diseases daily and connects to hospitals like CART-I made me start SkyLabs.

Many people nowadays are unaware of their cardiac disorders. Especially, atrial fibrillation can cause strokes, so it is crucial to prevent such diseases in advance. CART-I can detect the unnoticeable symptoms and continuously monitor and manage chronic patients.

Please explain more about CART-I and how it operates.

CART-I is a ring-type wearable medical device that automatically collects various bio-signals. However, describing CART-I as simply a medical device is underrating its utility. CART-I is a complicated system and platform that is connected to smartphones, collects and stores data onto a cloud server, and analyzes the data in real-time with deep learning algorithms (This is why we introduce SkyLabs as a service and platform company instead of a medical device company).

CART-I can collect various bio-signals, mainly the electrocardiogram (ECG) signals and photoplethysmography (PPG) signals. ECG signals are important electrical signals produced by contractions in the heart walls that allows us to analyze the heart rhythms. Yet, there is a limit to monitoring various cardiac diseases other than arrhythmia. Thus, CART-I uses light sensors to collect and analyze blood flow signals in the finger arteries. This enables monitoring of various heart, respiratory, and nervous system diseases. In addition, deep learning provides a strong base for detecting various features that humans cannot recognize.

What are some characteristics and advantages of CART-I?

CART-I is a continuous monitoring medical device that people can use without user intervention. It continuously collects and analyzes data in real-time even when a user is asleep. Such continuous monitoring without user intervention removes inconvenience on the user’s side and allows mass data collection. Since screening, diagnosis, and future monitoring of chronic diseases require a lot of data, CART-I’s continuous monitoring will become extremely useful.

For example, atrial fibrillation patients never know when the disease may occur, so it is important to continuously collect data for a long period of time. However, existing devices are uncomfortable and short-lived because they need to be controlled by the user or expensive because of surgeries to insert devices within the body. Compared to existing products, CART-I does not require user intervention or surgeries and can be worn for a long period of time.

Even though smartwatches nowadays get approved for medical use, it is difficult to collect mass data because users need to collect data themselves in upright postures. In addition, there are issues of low accuracy on measuring PPG signals on the wrist to monitor the body. CART-I is a licensed medical device that automatically collects data without user intervention, and achieves a very high accuracy through PPG signal measurements using fingers. In addition, real-time deep learning analysis based on cloud servers enables various analyses that cannot be implemented in smartwatches or smartphones.

Furthermore, since PPG signals used by CART-I utilizes blood flow information to monitor various diseases, there is work for future extensions. We are verifying not only arrhythmia, but also other diseases like circulatory, respiratory, and nervous system diseases through clinical trials.

Recently, there has been news of smartwatches successfully detecting abnormal symptoms in users. However, those are only a part of the huge medical device market. Most devices are simply wearable devices not medical devices, whereas CART-I is certified as a medical device. CART-I reduces the inconvenience of users by automatically collecting data in daily life and provides continuous monitoring of cardiac diseases. Soon, the day will come where CART-I develops to monitor diseases other than atrial fibrillation.

Currently, CART-I is drawing attention as a ring-type cardio monitoring device overseas, including Europe. It also recently received the CE marking, and is now available for sale. What was difficult about entering the global market, and how did you overcome them to achieve SkyLabs’ current status?

SkyLabs is still striving to become a global company, so I cannot say that we overcame the difficulties yet. However, SkyLabs is making every effort to develop a product and service that the world can acknowledge, and I can confidently say that our efforts have created a valuable and unique product. In the end, a good product and service itself explains the value of the company. I believe that a product should provide unparalleled values that can be recognized by anyone in the world.

Of course, it is undeniable that SkyLabs have travelled around the world to be recognized abroad in the initial stages of SkyLabs. Although overseas business trips have been limited due to COVID-19, we are planning more active overseas trips in the future.

I am pleased to see SkyLabs and CART-I being recognized in the global market. We hope in the future that SkyLabs collaborate with more international companies, and its platform and services become user around the world. Also, COVID-19 should definitely be gone so overseas travel become possible!

There are strict regulations on medical devices in Korea. Recently, regulations have been eased, and now SkyLabs is collaborating with Chong Kun Dangb2 to pursue B2C. How effective is CART-I in the use of healthcare services like hospital treatment?

The data collected and analyzed through CART-I is utilized in hospitals to diagnose and treat arrhythmia. The data analyzes the patients’ arrhythmia and prescribes according anticoagulants. Previously, diagnosis itself was imperfect, and it took a long time to rent devices from hospitals. CART-I is available to patients without waiting, and the device can also increase the accuracy of diagnosis.

In addition, CART-I is utilized to remotely monitor people suspected of COVID-19 and actual COVID-19 patients. This type of remote monitoring is an active topic overseas as well.

CART-I’s data can be followed up by medical services, thus reducing time and costs for cardiac patients. It’s also surprising that CART-I has been monitoring COVID-19 patients! We expect CART-I expanding in a wide range of directions 🙂

There are still limitations for wearable devices to make accurate diagnosis yet. For example, a device may be trustworthy, but also induce anxiety for users. What other limitations are there and how are you resolving them?

It’s true that a small number of measurements, inconsistent data collection, and device use based on user intervention are limited in diagnosing and monitoring chronic diseases. Thus, it is very important to collect mass data to properly analyze the patient’s status. In fact, even in the clinical field, doctors do not diagnose chronic diseases through a few measurements. For example, we do not diagnose hypertensive patients with a few blood pressure measurements. It is crucial to fully understand the patient’s status through many measurements and data collection, and with more and more data, we can accurately diagnose and provide customized treatment depending on the patient’s condition.

Since CART-I is a continuous monitoring medical device without user intervention, it can collect mass data. The goal of CART-I’s platform is to analyze the collected data and provide meaningful information necessary for doctors to diagnose diseases. This information is provided in a form of a report bi-weekly or monthly. We are designing the UX to provide device users with simple and understandable information, and also access more information if necessary. Through this method, we are working to prevent excessive anxiety or excessive medical treatment caused by existing medical devices.

It is known to diagnose hypertension through measuring daily blood pressure throughout the day. Diagnosing chronic diseases through a few abnormal symptoms is prone to error, which makes CART-I a more accurate device through its mass collected data. This will also prevent excessive anxiety of patients.

What does SkyLabs want to develop next?

I can’t say in detail because it’s too early to disclose our projects in progress, but as I mentioned earlier, we are conducting clinical tests related to circulatory, respiratory, and nervous system diseases and will provide additional services in the future. Through the deep learning model trained using high-quality mass datasets, we expect that SkyLabs will gradually expand to deal with other chronic diseases.

We hope beyond CART-I, and that CART-II, CART-III will monitor and assist diagnosis of a wide variety of diseases. Since early detection is the most important problem in treatment, we expect the medical devices, services, and platforms by SkyLabs will be of great help.

What is SkyLabs’ ultimate goal and vision?

As I mentioned earlier, SkyLabs is a company that provides a platform and service that allows remote treatment and monitoring of chronic patients, which is known as a Data-Driven Preventive Healthcare Company. Since our establishment, we call ourselves the ‘World-Best Data-Driven Preventive Healthcare Company. We will continue to establish ourselves as the world’s leading data-based preventive healthcare company, allowing easier treatment and monitoring of chronic diseases at a lower cost.

When I first heard of CART-I, I simply thought of it as a medical device that analyzes cardio signals and diagnoses cardiac diseases. However, CART-I is also a platform that continuously monitors patients, analyzes mass collected data, and links to medical services. In addition, CART-I will become of great help in the COVID-19 era, where telemedicine is becoming mainstream. We hope SkyLabs monitor and manage more and more patients, as well as other diseases to create healthier lives.

This was CEO Byung-hwan Lee of SkyLabs.

[Startup Interview] CEO Jungyong Nam of ‘Eta Electronics’, a startup developing the next generation wireless power transfer solution ‘Eta-ON’

Today we will meet Eta Electronics, a company developing a solution for the next generation wireless power transfer technology. Eta Electronics was founded by 3 KAIST graduate students and is bringing innovation to wireless charging technology.
Let’s meet CEO Jungyong Nam of Eta Electronics!

Can you briefly introduce Eta Electronics and the chief officers (CEO, CTO, and CSO)?

Hello, I am the CEO of Eta Electronics, Jungyong Nam. We are an electrical engineering tech-startup founded in 2019, focusing on the development of the next generation of wireless power transfer technology ‘Eta-ON’.

I received my PhD degree in Neuroscience from the Department of Biological Sciences at KAIST. I enjoyed pure biology, but also wanted to experience IT convergence so I worked in R&D at Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology after graduating.

CTO Taedong Yeo received a PhD degree in the wireless power transfer field from the Department of Electrical Engineering at KAIST, then co-founded Eta Electronics. CSO Jeongmin Hong received his Master’s degree from the Department of Electrical Engineering at KAIST in Embedded Systems. After working and building experience at LG Electronics, he joined Eta Electronics.

Eta Electronics is unique in that the chief officers are all from KAIST. It’s not easy to start a business together after working in different fields, but it’s especially memorable that three KAIST graduates joined forces and are currently leading the company.

How did Eta Electronics decide on this item as its startup product?

At Samsung Electronics, I used to develop health monitoring systems based on wearable devices like smartwatches. When dealing with small electronic devices, you always encounter battery issues. Even when you add a small feature to the device, I was always told that the battery cannot handle it 🙂 Thus, I naturally gained interest in battery and wireless power transfer technologies.

I found that CTO Taedong Yeo has been researching a Maximum Efficiency Point Tracking (METP)-based wireless power transfer technology. I then joined forces to supplement and commercialize the technology and started Eta Electronics.

The chief officers have been researching in separate fields and came together to start a business. CEO Jungyong Nam took on a new challenge, while CTO Taedong Yeo made the most of his major. It seems like their direct experience in the field and R&D assisted them in starting a new business.

CEO Nam, CTO Yeo, as well as CSO Hong are all graduates of KAIST. How did you form an alumni startup and overcome difficulties during the process?

When I became interested in wireless power transfer technology at Samsung Electronics, a co-worker of mine introduced me to Ph.D. Taedong Yeo. CTO Yeo was a savant in the wireless power transfer field and had a strong passion for startups, so I immediately thought of co-founding Eta Electronics. Then, we persuaded CSO Jeongmin Hong, a friend of CTO Yeo since undergraduate at KAIST, who we thought was the optimal person to develop embedded systems.

This applies to all startups, but starting the business itself is the hardest. It’s not easy to abandon the safe jobs and environment we have at this moment over a risky challenge. The strongest weapon to overcome this barrier and step forwards is meeting reliable colleagues. If I haven’t met CTO Yeo and CSO Hong, I would still be working at Samsung Electronics.

Is there a reason for starting the business in Gyeongsang-do instead of Daejeon?

Currently, our headquarters is in Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do, and R&D center is in Seoul. At the initial stages of Eta Electronics, we needed a strong partnership to compensate for our lack of infrastructure and network. Luckily, the Wireless Power Transfer Technology Center in Gyeongsan reached out. In August 2019, we officially signed an MOU and moved our headquarters to Gyeongsan to utilize the center’s infrastructure. The Wireless Power Transfer Technology Center is a global-level standard certification agency with the latest equipment in the field.

So, that was the reason why Eta Electronics is based in Gyeongsan, not Daejeon! Starting a business in a place with infrastructure is crucial for further development. There might be difficulties in running the headquarters and R&D center simultaneously, but there will also be more synergy.

What is unique about Eta Electronics’ next-generation wireless charging technology from existing technologies?

Various methods of wireless power transfer technologies being researched, but the only technology that is successfully commercialized is the magnetic induction method that is applied to most smartphones. However, it is not a completely wireless because the transmitting and receiving coils must be attached to the device and charger, and a slight misalignment in the coils will not charge the phones.

We plan to develop a more complete and comfortable wireless power transfer technology by applying our own control algorithms, system and coil designs. There are three main directions – simultaneously 3D charging multiple devices by increasing the degree of freedom (increasing the distance of wireless charging), increasing the power that can be transmitted from a few Watts to thousands of kW, and allowing wireless power transfer even when there are obstacles between the coils like water or skin. If we combine these core technologies, there will be more diverse types of electronic devices that we can use cordless.

Currently, there are only a few electronic devices that can charge wirelessly like smartphones. Current wireless technology is incomplete, but Eta Electronics will bring an era where more electronic devices can charge wirelessly without outlets. As CEO Nam mentioned, we look forward to Eta Electronics’ efficient wireless power transfer technology with full power.

What problems exist to commercialize Eta Electronics’ technology, and what are the solutions?

The first problem is the completeness of Technology. The author of ‘Zero to One’, Peter Thiel, stated that new technologies must be 10 times superior to successfully substitute existing technologies. We are also endeavoring to develop a technology that people find helpful and useful.

Secondly, there is an issue of regulations. In wireless power transfer technologies, the EMI/EMC (Electromagnetic Interference / Electromagnetic Compatibility) and EMF (Electromagnetic Field) becomes problematic. For a technology to be commercialized, it must effectively address such issues. Next generation technologies often do not have standards or measurement methods at all, so in our case, we are looking over such issues with experts in the field of wireless power transfer.

The largest obstacle in the growth of domestic startups seems to be regulations. The healthcare field is a target of strong regulations, as well as the wireless power transfer field. We hope Eta Electronics overcome the regulation barriers and provide customers with useful and convenient technologies.

Eta Electronics currently has a B2B business model. Do you have any plans to pursue B2C to directly reach customers?

Although it is different between fields, we should approach B2B and B2C businesses differently. To an engineer-centered team like us, it is extremely difficult to create a product/service that can satisfy customers. For now, we are focusing on what we can do best and prefer to collaborate with B2C-cetnered partner companies. It would be exciting to directly meet customers as ‘Eta’ as our market capability develops in the future.

Focusing on one’s strengths is a smart survival strategy. Please continue to target B2B and approach customers in the future as Eta Electronics grow!

It’s hard to bring profit in the beginning, but Eta Electronics attracted a lot of investment. What is the secret to attracting investment?

It’s difficult to say that we attracted a lot of investment. In the beginning, we lacked business capabilities since we were an engineer-centered team. We lacked a clear business model and our product was not trendy. Our company was probably not very attractive, but investors at the early stages trusted us and saw the young and dynamic energy of our team. I believe they trusted our growth potential in the numerous trial-and-errors.

It seems like tech-based startups attract investment with their potential. Investors of Eta Electronics must have thought highly of the potential in Eta Electronics’ technology.

What does Eta Electronics want to develop next?

We are focusing on the keywords ‘Energy’ and ‘Efficiency’. If you look around, you will find yourself surrounded by many battery-based electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, wireless earphones. We expect a problem of efficiently managing power of such devices in a 3D grid will come in the future. So, our next goal is to create a smart power management system based on wireless power transfer technology.

Efficiency will become crucial with energy attracting attention as a growth engine. A single system that can efficiently manage and store energy of multiple electronic devices instead of chargers for each device will become extremely convenient.

What is Eta Electronics’ ultimate goal and vision?

Surprisingly many research and development organizations miss the essence due to the inefficient procedures and regulations. We believe that innovation can be achieved in a free environment where team members can focus on R&D. Thus, our dream is to create a company where engineers can actively communicate and learn from each other. Our company is not perfect, but we hope students come to our company to grow and enjoy.

Eta Electronics hopes to create a charger-less world using wireless power transfer technology. Joined by R&D experts, Eta Electronics is passionately working and leaping forward as a technology-intensive company. Soon, the next-generation wireless power transfer solution ‘Eta-ON’ will create a wireless charging generation. We hope that in the near future, all electronic devices become charger-free and Eta Electronics develop further with talented researchers in a free environment!

This was CEO Jungyong Nam of Eta Electronics.

[Startup Interview] CEO Jaewoon Kim of ‘GSD’, a company developing a digital twin-based virtual data generation service ‘AUTODATA’

The team we will meet today is the winner of 2021 Spring E*5 KAIST, GSD. GSD is a team that generates virtual data for AI training based on digital twin technology.

Let’s meet CEO Jaewoon Kim of GSD!

Can you briefly introduce GSD including yourself and the team members?

Hello, I am Jaewoon Kim, CEO of GSD. GSD is a technology startup team of KAIST master’s and Ph.D. students developing AUTODATA, a virtual data generation solution service. We endeavor to solve the most serious problem in AI development pipeline of data collection and processing.

Virtual data generation solution might sound unfamiliar, but AUTODATA is explained in detail below.

What does GSD mean?

Many people are curious about the meaning of GSD. Some say it stands for ‘Great Super Data’ and others know it as ‘GunSsakDol’. However, GSD actually stands for ‘Gabsida!’ (Let’s Go!) 🙂 It was sort of a joke, but it has a deep meaning. When GSD was first established, the team members gathered at the Eoeun-dong café ‘Gabe’ and then the Japanese restaurant ‘Yoshida’. We decided to name the company ‘Gabsida’ to remember our initial resolution and to keep going on to the end.

It’s special to name the company after the place where the team members decided to embark on a journey.

How did GSD select the item as its startup product?

There were many difficulties until choosing the current startup item. Since August 2020 when the team was first formed to winning E*5, our item changed 4 times. Rather than gathering to solve a specific problem, the team gathered in desire of starting a business so we went through hardships.

In search of various items, we discovered a problem that directly relates to our current item thanks to the Myungchul Kim crew. While I was working on an AI related project at the laboratory, the cost of building a dataset for training was beyond my expectation. The reason behind this was because the task was labor-intensive because workers had to create the dataset manually. This made no sense to me. AI exists to make people convenient, but for the AI to function well, it requires the hard labor of many people. I discovered the problems in data creation in terms of time and the consistency and diversity of data. Among the numerous problems, creating 3D images or Point Cloud data is extremely difficult and time & cost-consuming. I realized that data collection and the high level of processing hinder the development of AI, so decided to develop AUTODATA which could solve these issues innovatively.

Can you explain more about the digital twin-based virtual data generation service?

AUTODATA is a digital twin-based virtual data generation service for computer vision AI training. Data is a crucial component in the development of artificial intelligence in that data collection and processing take about 80% in the AI development pipeline. However, these tasks, especially those that involve image data, have been handled manually by people through repetitive and simple labor, thus resulting in the high time costs and low accuracy. AUTODATA is a solution that creates a virtual environment and then create and augment data to solve the aforementioned issues. Specifically, AUTODATA generates image data in the 3D simulation environment with the same settings as reality then changes conditions such as illumination, shadows, and textures to extract training data needed in training. The digital twin data made during the process is saved digitally, so it does not require additional processing by humans. Currently, we provide training data needed in the AI robotics market.

Data plays an important role in the AI development process, but it is surprising that the data processing tasks have been continuing with human labor. It seems like the AI field still has a long way to go. Using AUTODATA developed by GSD during the data creation and processing can save time and money without additional human labor.

What is unique about GSD from existing AI data startups?

Existing AI data processing solutions are based on manual human labor. Methods like crowdsourcing which is relatively cheap and fast, but these are unsuitable for tasks that have high processing difficulty like 3D image data. We create and augment data virtually to provide datasets for AI models at 10,000 times lower price than existing solutions, and 120 times faster speed. Since we create data digitally, we can produce a 100% accurate high-quality data without additional labor. This helps customers operate their AI development pipelines at a much faster and improved performance.

There are more and more startups that process data, but there seems to be a slight difference in the methods. Creating data in a virtual environment will be able to deliver datasets to customers at a much faster and cheaper rate and establish AI development pipelines quickly. It seems like more customers will look forward to GSD’s AUTODATA.

How did you gather your team members and decide to start a business?

Our team has been friends for a long time. We were all very interested in startups, and in August 2020, crew Kang Hong-gu contacted me to work on a small project together. At first, he and I worked on the project, then I contacted crew Kim Myung-chul to create GSD today 🙂

The reason why we became interested in startups was because we all had a dream of impacting the world beneficially. In my case, I believed that my work inspires people to think and act in a different way what they previously took for granted. I always dreamed of changing the world with my work, and I chose to become an entrepreneur to realize this dream.

It’s not easy to challenge starting a business with the desire to change the world beneficially, but CEO Kim has realized this dream. Science and technology are able to develop with the work of teams like GSD.

What was the motivation to participate in E*5 KAIST, and what did you learn from it?

E*5 KAIST was like a booster. Before participating in E*5 KAIST, our team prepared to start a business, but since it was our first time, we worried whether we were taking the right path. E*5 is a grateful program that allowed us to grow exponentially when we were in need of quick execution and feedback.

The biggest lesson I learned while participating in E*5 was the persistent mindset to discover customer needs and problems in the market, and the growth through repeated trials and feedback. The program to closely verify ideas and the detailed advice from mentors at the nation’s top venture capital and accelerators made the GSD today. I want to take this opportunity to thank all mentors and E*5 program staff members for helping us 🙂

Startup support programs like E*5 KAIST can be helpful when preparing to start a business. Experts become mentors to provide realistic advice and solution based on marketability, development potential, and business feasibility, so as CEO Kim said, this program can become a booster. We hope many people stay interested and participate in Startup KAIST’s startup support program!

What is GSD’s short term goal?

Our goal is to establish an automation pipeline technology that provides image data that clients need at all times within a year and a half, and enter the global market with this. Unlike the relatively small domestic market, virtual data services are a new trend in the global infrastructure market for machine learning service operation (MLOps). The biggest challenge is to quickly enter this market and grow into a global company.

An automation pipeline technology that provides data at all times and collaboration with other AI companies will help GSD enter the global market and become a global company.

What is GSD’s ultimate goal?

Our vision is “Dream to Real with AI”. What will the role of humans be in 30 years? The answer we thought of was “keep dreaming”. Even if all other things are automated, thinking of new ideas and challenging lie in the role of humans. Then what will the role of AI be? We believe artificial intelligence will become companion who will help human’s dreams come true. To realize this, we will develop a virtual data generation service through self-supervised AI. Through this, we plan to advance AI development by 10 years.

In the process of creating and processing data in artificial intelligence development, GSD produces and extract virtual data. This allows timely and cheaper development, and enhances AI technology. Although AI has developed a lot compared to the past, AI technology will develop even more because of teams like GSD.

We look forward to and support the development of GSD. This was CEO Jaewoon Kim of GSD.

[Startup Interview] CEO Nohkyum Kyeong of Animal Industry Data Korea, a domestic livestock-tech startup developing the digital healthcare solution ‘Farmsplan’

The company we will meet today is Animal Industry Data Korea, a livestock-tech company providing the farmsplan service which supports systematic farm operation for livestock based on AI and biotechnology. Animal Industry Data Korea provides a solution to identify the status of livestock through AI to help the understaffed livestock industry.

Let’s meet CEO Nohkyum Kyeong of Animal Industry Data Korea!

Can you briefly introduce Animal Industry Data Korea and yourself?

Hello, I am Nohkyum Kyeong, CEO of Animal Industry Data Korea. After graduating the School of Management Engineering at KAIST, I have gained years of experience in big data analysis while working at Allianz SE, ETRI, and SPREAD, an ETRI startup that I established myself. In November 2017, I established Animal Industry Data Korea, combining big data and livestock biotech, and have been creating a healthy livestock and One-health ecosystem.

Animal Industry Data Korea is a livestock-tech startup that uses deep technologies such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, veterinary science, and genetics to drive technological innovation in the livestock industry. With the convergence of livestock and technology, we provide a solution to improve the difficulties that prevailed in existing livestock farms and realize One-Health for animals, humans, and the environment by reducing antibiotics and preventing infectious diseases.

Combining livestock and bio-tech using the previous experience with big data analysis sounds fresh. There aren’t many livestock-tech startups in Korea, so Animal Industry Data Korea will be able to improve the understaffed livestock industry using technology to prevent diseases and reduce antibiotics. Let’s take a closer look on how CEO Kyeong became interested in the livestock industry.

How did Animal Industry Data Korea decide on this idea as its startup product?

I tried looking for alternatives to solve the food shortage problem and satisfy customer needs through the convergence of the livestock industry and IT technology. In the future, 9 billion people will be living on Earth, and it has long been predicted that there will be a shortage of food and land in the future. Food shortages are already becoming a reality. In 2018, 30% of pigs in China died due to ASF, which led to the shortage of pork. In addition, animal feed prices are becoming a burden to farmers because of the exponential rise in grain prices caused by abnormal weather. There is also labor shortage due to the aging population. Many livestock farms now face the challenge of improving low productivity at a minimum cost.

In addition, I believe it was necessary to increase the competitiveness of domestic farms to meet the diverse customer needs. Customers not only want domestic and cheap meat, but also healthy and delicious meat. That’s why people buy Iberico pork instead of Korean pork, because Iberico pigs are known to grow healthy in the grassland. If the import tariffs are lowered, we can import high quality meat at a cheaper price, and domestic farms will have to compete in quality and also price. However, the current mortality rate of pigs in domestic farms is still high and it is costly to raise pigs because of antibiotics. Thus, I thought it was necessary to reduce the cost of raising pigs to lower consumer prices and supply healthy quality meat at the same time.

While settling SPREAD, the startup I founded, I was offered to work at a company that recommends makeup products or lunch boxes from analyzing human genes. At that company, I grew interested in bio data analysis technologies, which I thought was the future for the livestock industry. Because the livestock industry was far from technology and I had experience in big data analysis at SPREAD, I thought I could create high value by converging the industry and the big data analysis technology. A solution that can identify the status of livestock using blood will increase the productivity of farms and also satisfy customer needs of high quality meat. Also, this industry had high barriers to enter so no one at that time challenged to solve these problems.

So Animal Industry Data Korea was founded with the goal of improving the environment of domestic farms using CEO Kyeong’s big data analysis experience. Bio data analysis technology is not only useful for humans, but can also be applied to livestock to create a livestock healthcare system.

Animal Industry Data Korea uses AI instead of human experience to monitor the condition of livestock. AI is replacing humans in many areas, but how can it identify the livestock conditions better than the experienced farmers? Is it possible to manage a farm with only AI?

Experience often means professionalism, but it can also mean bias. Experienced farmers can see the conditions of livestock based on their experience, but since experience is not objective data it could lead to biased decisions. AI is not a replacement for humans, but rather a supplement for humans to make decisions based on data. People should still use their experience and senses, but also use AI to make non-biased decisions. Operating farms with only AI is a distant future when highly advanced robots emerge, and human experience and expertise are still key to farms.

Managing farms with experience is important, but could also be far from accuracy. Supplementing farms with AI can increase the accuracy and reduce the number of staff working in farms.

Can you explain more about ‘Farmsplan’?

Farmsplan is the most practical livestock healthcare solution that strengthens livestock immunity by optimizing the environment for each farms. Farmsplan provides four main services – care, live, manager, and eco.

Farmsplan Care monitors contagious animal diseases and analyzes immune system indicators, and provides customized veterinary solutions to farms. Animal Industry Data Korea is a state-certified livestock disease inspection agency that conducts reliable testing, and big data analysis experts recommends optimized programs depending on the state of the farms. Consequently, designated veterinarians visit farms to provide customized solutions.

Farmsplan Live is an AI solution that monitors livestock 24-7 through CCTVs installed in farms. Because one staff member manages thousands of pigs, there is often holes in management. Farmsplan Live identifies pigs using machine vision, thus reducing labor intensity.

Farmsplan Manager is a farm management program with big data analysis technology. One can take a picture of a handwritten paper and log it in the program. In addition, efficient data management is possible because the program automatically updates the status of the farm.

Farmsplan Eco is a solution that measures the conditions of the farm such as temperature, humidity, and presence of harmful gases inside the farm. The manager can check the conditions without having to enter the farm.

Animal Industry Data Korea currently manages about 200,000 pigs with the Farmsplan service, and is trying to increase the number of customer farms to preemptively respond to livestock diseases and health conditions.

The Farmsplan service is a comprehensive digital livestock healthcare solution divided into several services – Care, Live, Eco, and Manager. With this service, farmers can monitor the health conditions of livestock and also provide a customized veterinarian solution to reduce livestock mortality. It is amazing that livestock can be managed without a staff member using technologies like AI. With these technologies, livestock dying of contagious diseases will decrease and the problem of understaffed farms can be solved.

Using the Farmsplan service can help reduce the mortality rate, so how effective is it in preventing contagious diseases like ASF?

African swine fever (ASF) is a fatal disease in the pig industry. It is difficult to detect infected pigs because the symptoms in the early stage of the disease are not noticeable. In addition, the incubation period is very short and the fatality rate can reach 100%. However, due to many variations of the disease, there are still no vaccines and early detection and preventive measures are the only countermeasures against this virus.

The ASF virus infects the pig’s main immune cells and reduces the immune function. Thus, if the pig has a high immune system, it has high resistance to the viruses in the early stage and can reduce the spread of the virus. Animal Industry Data Korea measures the immune status of pigs and provides solutions to strengthen the resistance of pigs to diseases. Preventing the spread of bacterial and viral infections through immunity management is a powerful counterattack against the latest viruses with many variations. In addition, AI can detect the early symptoms of ASF and preemptively respond to diseases.

It is impossible to prevent ASF completely, but with Animal Industry Data Korea’s immune status monitoring technology, we will be able to prevent the spread of disease in advance. In addition, management is essential to respond to the mutation in viruses, so AI will be able to support immediate response.

Smart livestock businesses are being introduced. What are the differences and advantages from existing livestock businesses?

The main difference of smart and existing livestock businesses is ‘data and automation’. Data in the smart livestock industry is different from data in the old livestock industry in many ways, including collection and utilization scope, and the form of data. In addition, data evolved from a passive role of providing history to an active role of decision making. Among the various tasks required to raise livestock, the simple tasks are automated in the smart livestock industry. The advantage of such industry is that livestock management is much more systematic and efficient with data and automation.

As CEO Kyeong said, the introduction of the smart livestock industry will bring different aspects into the current industry. In addition to automating tasks, data will play a more important role in realizing more active and efficient work.

This technology sounds suitable for the post COVID-19 farm management, and could also be introduced abroad! How are you developing the business globally?

Because countries abroad raise similar animals like pigs, cows, and chickens, our Farmsplan service can be applied regardless of the country. In fact, I received an interest to apply the service in developing countries with low livestock production and performance. Farms in some countries are already applying the Farmsplan technology. Currently, a consortium has been formed to apply the Farmsplan solution to a dairy farm in Uttar Pradesh, India, and will also be applied to a farm in Malaysia using the chicken and pig AI model.

In livestock advanced countries as well, facilities are well automated, but there is still no corporate control system that owns many farms due to the labor-intensive management methods. The Farmsplan service can control the farms in different areas and check the status of livestock without actually visiting the farm. It can provide an efficient IT system and a premium concept of healthy livestock to distributors and consumers.

If the Farmsplan service is globalized and applied, it can help not only domestic livestock industries but countries with slow AI development. This will become possible with the data collected and technology developed by Animal Industry Data Korea, and the Farmsplan service will soon be used around the world.

Congratulations on your recent selection of the Ministry of Science and Technology’s future unicorn development project. What are the benefits of being selected and advantages in relation to global business?

Companies selected for the future unicorn development project receive up to 10 billion won in credit guarantees, investment attraction, and legal advices from the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Information and Communication Industry Promotion Agency. In addition, through overseas specialized programs that use U.S., Singapore, and Vietnam as overseas bases, we are planning on expanding the Farmsplan service overseas.

It is great to receive funding as a government business. I hope this opportunity serves as a foundation for expanding overseas.

How should we further develop the livestock healthcare system in Korea?

It is necessary to address many regulations so that private companies can freely research and commercialize the research results.

It seems like the government is slowly relaxing these regulations, so I hope it will be resolved in the near future.

One word to KAIST Students who are interested in starting a business?

People say that the startup item is important when starting a business. However, it is more important to have willpower and the ability to execute to develop an item into something that we need. Even if it’s an item that someone has previously tried and failed, with timing and different methods, the item may become successful. Even if it’s an item that someone else is already succeeding in, it can be improved into a better item. If it’s an item that no one has challenged or supports, one can create a new market and trend by hanging on to it till the end. The most important thing is to continue to work hard. Animal Industry Data Korea is also continuously trying, executing, and growing.

The item itself is important, but the methods are also important. Having it in thoughts only is meaningless, so one should execute their thoughts and go through trial and error to develop.

What are some main accomplishments after starting the business?

Animal Industry Data Korea has attracted about 7 billion won since its establishment. After being selected as TIPS in 2018, we attracted Series A investment from Naver, Woori Bank, Korea Omega Investment Finance, and Timewise Investment, and also succeeded in attracting impact funds by meeting the UN’s sustainable development standards. In addition, Farmsplan proudly won second place in the Ag-tech category of the ‘Virtual Pitch Competition’. Recently, we completed the ‘Data Dam’ project of the Ministry of Science and Technology, creating and applying pig, cow, chicken AI analysis models based on the 400,000 livestock AI dataset.

As CEO Kyeong said, Animal Industry Data Korea is recognized for its technology in Korea and abroad. We look forward to even more accomplishments!

What is the ultimate goal of Animal Industry Data Korea?

Animal Industry Data Korea’s goal is to create a single standard farm breeding platform that can be applied to farms in Korea and abroad. From livestock advanced countries to developing countries, there are many forms of farms depending on the degree of development of the industry. Due to the various forms of farms, it is difficult to control contagious diseases around the world, thus threatening human health. COVID-19, which has spread around the world, is also a common transmission of diseases from animals to humans. We hope to develop our healthcare service into a standard platform that can be applied to all farms around the world, control diseases, and contribute to One-Health.

Animal Industry Data Korea is progressing for the development of the livestock industry around the world. Since it has become difficult to continue the livestock industry with traditional methods, Animal Industry Data Korea has been providing livestock healthcare, management, and solutions using AI technology and data analysis technology. It is important to prevent the spread of diseases among animals, because it can also spread to humans. The Farmsplan service allows farmers to check the conditions of livestock remotely, prevent diseases, and solve food shortage problems through systematic management. In the future, we hope Farmsplan becomes a standardized platform that presents new standards for the global livestock industry. We look forward to the day Animal Industry Data Korea’s dreams become a reality.

This was CEO Nohkyum Kyeong of Animal Industry Data Korea!

[Startup Interview] CEO Sung Woon Lee of ‘RevoSketch’, a startup company developing digital PCR technology to provide early cancer screening service

CEO Sung Woon Lee of RevoSketch, a company that help researchers to detect early cancer and other diseases by detecting genes, joined us today. CEO Lee is known to be a serial entrepreneur, because he started 4 new businesses. RevoSketch, the company he is currently at, utilizes a digital PCR technology to conquer cancer.

Let’s meet CEO Sung Woon Lee of RevoSketch!

Can you briefly introduce RevoSketch and yourself?

I am KAIST class of ’92 and majored in Electrical Engineering. RevoSketch is my 4th startup, followed by AKCRON(1994), Star V-ray(2000) and 3DISC(2007). All of the startups became M&As to American companies.

RevoSketch stands for Revolutionary Sketch, meaning that all innovative products are born from innovative sketches.

As an undergraduate, I was always interested in startups, and there was an IT startup boom at that time. In sophomore year, I participated in the KITSAT-3 project at the Satellite Technology Research Lab, and decided to start a business while I was working as the main designer for two of the thirteen payloads in the project. At that time, some professors said that students funded by the government should not be involved in businesses, and some supported startups. I was suggested to close the business, so I re-established the startup after I graduated.

Lee’s success was achieved by challenging himself to actually start a business beyond interests. The company name shows that Lee is trying to achieve innovation.

How did RevoSketch decide on this item as its startup product?

First of all, I have more than 20 years of technical experience in the bio and medical fields. In particular, I became experienced in global supply while operating FDA certification and overseas branches. At the time of preparing a startup, I interviewed many representatives of bio companies, researched global market reports, then decided that digital PCR technology could create the most innovative item.

RevoSketch consists of members with long experience in optics, electronics, software, mechanics, and bio. The currently developed and released item is based on High Speed Laser based Fluorescence Scanning technology. Since we have experience in supplying more than 2500 precision laser-based medical devices, we have the development ability and mass production capability to maintain quality from design to shipment to anywhere in the world.

So, PCR technology was selected based on various experiences and preliminary research. We look forward to RevoSketch and its excellent team.

Can you explain the product High Speed Laser based Fluorescence Scanning Technology in detail?

High Speed Laser Based Fluorescence Scanning is not the product itself, but a basis technology. It is used in Digital PCR and Microarray scanner products.

Fluorescence Scanning is a method of measuring the amount of fluorescence by using the principle that when excitation beams are irradiated and then lowered to the base state, they release emission beams. Fluorescence Scanning allows for many possible the technology of aggregating various types of laser excitation beams to 10um, the optical filter technology of reflecting light and transferring light emission to the detector, SiPhoton Multiplier (SiPM) technology, low noise analog front end technology, high speed ADC technology, and high speed digital transfer technology.

In other words, it is a technology that scans fluorescence in a small area of 10um at high speed and creates a 2-D fluorescence image. In the bio field, there are various ways to use fluorescent materials to detect genes or proteins. RevoSketch’s laser-based high-speed fluorescence scanning technology is useful for delicate detection of small amounts of genes or proteins.

You have many experience in startups, so what was the reason to start your own business? How did you overcome the difficulties?

In the 90s and early 200s, there weren’t many VCs investing in startups, so I had difficulty of developing services and products and raising funds at the same time. The startup ecosystem of startups at that time was very poor. Despite the weak environment, we continued to develop the technology and overcame the difficulties by receiving investment from foreign companies that recognized our technology.

As mentioned above, CEO Sung Woon Lee started a new business 4 times. He was interested in startups since college, and successfully started businesses through technology development. Despite the difficulties of startups, he continued to proceed and became an M&A for an American company.

How is the digital PCR device developed by RevoSketch unique from other digital PCR devices?

Traditional digital PCR devices are considered as the third generation, but I believe RevoSketch’s digital PCR technology is considered as the 3.5th generation. The biggest difference is that traditional digital PCR devices uses the end-point scan method which detects 1 signal after 40 separate gene amplifications, while RevoSketch uses a real-time scan method that detects signal after each amplification stage. In other words, it is a real-time digital PCR technology that can accurately determine whether the signal is caused by amplification by detecting signals at every stage.

The detected bulk data automatically determines whether the signal is positive or negative through RevoSketch’s own neural network AI algorithm, solving the chronic “Rain problem” of traditional digital PCR devices. As a result, we remove the high error rate of traditional end-point scan methods that rely on the position of the threshold that can go up to 17%.

This difference can be seen as a significant improvement in the performance of sensitive and accurate measurement of limited Bio-markers for early diagnosis of cancer or dementia.

RevoSketch’s technology is one step ahead of traditional digital PCR technology by performing real-time scans. It seems to have a great advantage with its own AI algorithm that could solve existing “rain problems” as well. RevoSketch’s technology will help to treat diseases like cancer in a timely manner through early screening.

Is it possible to diagnose diseases other than cancer early with RevoSketch’s technology? What is the principle and how is it operated?

Digital PCR technology is 1000 times more sensitive than the widely used 2nd generation real-time PCR technology. The principle of detection is the same with real-time PR in that it selectively amplifies target genes. To explain further, target bio-markers are determined through primers and samples that contain these bio-markers are heated to 95 degrees Celsius. Then, the double helix of DNA falls off into a single strand, and when the temperature is lowered to 55 degrees, primers attach to the part containing the bio-maker, from which Polymerase replicates. In other words, once the temperature is raised and lowered, the gene part containing the bio-marker is theoretically doubled. Repeating this process 40 times, it will be amplified to 2^40, which is 1 trillion times.

The reason for detection after amplification is because the amount of gene itself is too small, so the detector must have unfeasibly high level of sensitive. Thus, the strategy is to amplify the gene through polymerase. Digital PCR uses the method of separating detection samples into tens to hundreds of thousands of microreactors (Partitioning) and amplifying them independently. This dramatically improves sensitivity because it can improve the ratio of surrounding genes to target genes.

The current digital PCR can be used for any disease that detects genes, especially early diagnosis of cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Thank you for the detailed explanation of the digital PCR technology. It seems possible for digital PCR technology to early diagnose all diseases through gene amplification and detection. Although it is difficult with current technologies, I hope the technology could lead to the development of treatments with the early diagnosis of cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Developing digital PCR devices is expensive, so how is RevoSketch managing the cost?

We invest a lot in development, secure funds from investment from VCs, and also work on government projects to cover some of the costs.

Developing digital PCR technology is extremely difficult and requires a lot of time and work force, so we are developing other products that utilizes RevoSketch’s technology. One of which is a product that has finished registering as a medical device by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety been set in production and generating revenue since last year. If we start earning profit from sales, we can continue development without receiving investment and we plan on being listed once we meet the listing conditions.

Fortunately, government and VC investment have been lively compared to the past.  Using revenue from the sales of other medical devices to develop digital PCR technology is also a good method.

What is unique about RevoSketch compared to other biomarker companies?

RevoSketch is a bio company, but we are different from normal bio companies. RevoSketch develops bio technology based on engineering, enabling convergence collaboration with many existing bio companies. Existing bio companies have excellent bio technologies but rely on foreign devices or software.

One representative example of convergence cooperation that RevoSketch has been doing is developing an optimized device and software for the isothermal PCR corona kit developed by Seasun Biomaterials. We entered the market with this item, which is being introduced to Bioneer, Osang Healthcare, Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology and the Armed Forces Medical Research Institute. In addition, we are preparing a cloud server with the collected field data to expand our business to Big Data.

Cooperation between Korean companies is very important for K-bio to be properly established, and RevoSketch’s technology can actively support the weaknesses in engineering technologies of other Korean bio companies. Currently, there are more than 10 companies working with RevoSketch.

The cooperation of domestic bio companies is crucial to compete against global bio companies. It would be beneficial for RevoSketch to develop its technology through the collaboration with other bio companies and apply it to various medical devices. K-bio does not pale in comparison to foreign companies.

Daejeon is emerging as the center of bio healthcare companies. What is the reason behind this? How is this affecting RevoSketch?

Daejeon is the hub for startups developing innovative bio-technologies. RevoSketch is currently collaborating with Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology, KAIST National Nanofab Center, Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials, and the Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science, and more than 10 companies developing innovative bio contents in Daejeon. Daejeon is concentrated with a high level of bio and other technologies, so it seems like a melting pot for convergence of technology.

Daejeon is emerging as the center of bio healthcare. There are many science institutions as well as startups, and I hope K-bio gains more stature with the infrastructure from Daejeon.

One word to KAIST students who are interested in startups?

There is no business without hardships. The most fundamental element of business is courage and passion, and I hope KAIST alumni start businesses without courage and passion.

All pre-entrepreneurs hesitate to start a business with the fear of failure. The post of process of starting a business is very difficult and the probability of success is very low. As CEO Chung Ju-yung said, “There may be distress, but no such thing as failure”.

Those who have courage and challenge can reap the fruit. There is already a road ahead that seniors have paved, so KAIST students can follow the road.

What is RevoSketch’s ultimate goal?

I started RevoSketch to live until 500 years old. My goal is to contribute my abilities to solve the problem of death, which is probably the last homework for mankind. Of course, it is difficult to solve “death” with one technology, but humanity has doubled the life expectancy in the past 100 years, and the process will accelerate.

RevoSketch will do our best to contribute to the healthy life extension of mankind.

RevoSketch aims to solve diseases like cancer by developing digital PCR technology, the core of next-generation bio technology, and medical devices. The company reveals the startup experiences of the serial entrepreneur CEO Sung Woon Lee. CEO Lee’s 27-year experience and know-hows and the skillful team will continue to develop RevoSketch’s technology.

In the future, more diseases and unpredictable events may occur. In the midst, we hope RevoSketch’s technology will be able to predict and deal with such incidents. In addition, we hope that RevoSketch takes the lead in promoting K-bio by collaborating with various bio companies.

This was CEO Sung Woon Lee of RevoSketch.

[Startup Interview] CEO Changki Hong of “H2K”, a startup founded by two Ph.D.s students servicing a Hangul education application ‘Sojung Hangeul’

The company we will meet today is H2K, a company servicing an AI-based Hangul application called ‘Sojung Hangeul’ for children with dyslexia. H2K is progressing Korean phonics education by developing a sound-oriented Hangul education application. Let’s meet CEO Changki Hong of H2K, one of the two co-founders of H2K from KAIST.

Can you briefly introduce H2K and yourself?

H2K was co-founded by Changki Hong and Woo-Hyun Kim in June 2017. We decided to name the company H2K by taking the initials of our vision ‘Happiness To Kids’. We are currently servicing an AI-based personalized Hangul education service called ‘Sojung Hangul’.

As introduced earlier, H2K is a company founded by two KAIST Ph.D. students, servicing a Hangul application called ‘Sojung Hangul’. Like the meaning of the company name, H2K focuses on children and learning Hangul.

How did you select this item to start a business?

Before I met co-founder Woo-Hyun at school, I met him for the first time in 2008 at church. Thanks to the graduate program which lasted longer than expected, we decided to form a startup team after discussing that we wanted to do something socially meaningful. Since then, we endeavored to select an item that could bring out our major ‘AI and Big data’, and decided on our startup item with the help of CTO Jaesun Han of FuturePlay (currently the CEO of Ground X) who was our mentor during the 2016 E*5 KAIST program. The final item was a personalized Hangul education service for children with dyslexia. We thought that developing personalized solutions for dyslexic children in the blind spot of the current education system was a meaningful item that could also bring out our expertise.

H2K is also one of the early startup teams from the Startup KAIST student startup support program E*5. H2K’s current Hangul education service was chosen after discussions with mentors among many other startup items. It is amazing to find a partner who shares the same values. We believe the co-founders have come so far because they are like-minded.

‘Sojung Hangul’ targets children with dyslexia and children who are slow to learn Korean, which may be regarded as a niche market. Are there any difficulties in terms of profitability?

We thought that the problem in the Korean dyslexia market was serious, and it was important to solve the problem regardless of the size of the market. Although we started a company, we were more like researchers focusing on solving problems rather than the market. After receiving investment from the Social venture incubator Sopoong Ventures and going through the accelerating process, I then started to think seriously about expanding the target market.

From our initial target B2G market to the B2C market, and from the child dyslexia market where 5% of elementary students suffer dyslexia to a slow learner market of 20%, our service underwent multiple prototyping and beta tests and in 2018 Hangul day, we launched ‘Sojung Hangul’. Luckily, in 5 months we were selected as ‘Today’s app’ in App Store and in December we were selected as ‘Great App of the Year’. We became more familiar to the public, quickly expanding from our target of slow learners to all preschoolers of age 4 to 7.

I thought Hangul dyslexia was a problem for adults in the old days, but I never imagined it was still a problem. Especially, it is surprising that children also suffer from Hangul dyslexia. People who start a business try to solve and focus on problems that others cannot think of, which also applies to H2K. It seems that H2K has reached the Hangul phonics education after several pivots and tests from the child dyslexia market.

What are the advantages and characteristics of ‘Sojung Hangul’ compared to traditional worksheets used in Hangul education?

‘Sojung Hangul’’s artificial intelligence teachers combine the learning material and game contents to provide an optimal customized curriculum based on diagnostic results and the curriculum changes in real time depending on the child’s achievement. Recently, traditional worksheets switched to online, but the form of teacher visit learning has not changed. ‘Sojung Hangul’ is unique and appealing to customers in that children can learn without the help of parents and teachers.

The traditional education methods for Hangul include parents teaching their children directly or learning from worksheets of visiting teachers. However, it has now evolved beyond digital to artificial intelligence-based methods. Although worksheets have switched to online, teachers are still necessary. ‘Sojung Hangul’ replaces the role of visiting teachers with AI-based teachers to allow self-learning and provide interesting learning materials.

Normally, people learn Hangul visually rather than listening to the sound. H2K introduced phonics to Korean like in English education, but how is Hangul phonics different from English phonics?

Sojung Hangul is the first in Korea to teach Hangul through phonics. Phonics is known as an early English learning method in Korea, but it is actually a common method to teach letters by sound.

Hangul is a suitable language to apply phonics because the sound of consonants, vowels, and final consonant is clear. However, phonics was not mainstream in previous Hangul education because the teaching method is difficult and children can easily lose interest. All of Sojung Hangul’s contents consists of about 60 games that apply phonics. In other words, since we teach phonics through games, children can self-learn without losing interest. After Sojung Hangul, phonics is no longer a minority in Hangul education. Sojung Hangul is changing the market little by little!

Hangul phonics education is an unfamiliar concept to me. Come to think of it, Hangul is a language based on sounds, but it has been taught mainly by seeing and reading the letters. Sojung Hangul’s key characteristic is that it provides phonics education through games so children can learn by themselves and enjoy.

For the one-to-one customized AI curriculum, how is H2K expanding the business model to educational institutions such as kindergartens and private institutes besides B2C, and operating the B2B service?

We are planning to release an elementary school version of Sojung Hangul – ‘Sojung Hangul School’ – in the second half of this year. Sojung Hangul is already utilized in more than 30 elementary institutions, and planning on dominating the B2G Hangul market with ‘Sojung Hangul School’, which includes a web dashboard for teachers. In addition, we are building business models for partnership with language development centers and private academies.

So H2K is expanding into a B2G business instead of B2B. If Sojung Hangul is distributed to educational institutions, it will be a great help in Hangul education. The combination of Sojung Hangul and teachers is expected to have a synergy effect that will increase the quality of education. We hope Sojung Hangul’s contents are well-utilized with various partnerships with educational institutions.

What were some difficulties while starting a business and how did you overcome them?

In fact, most of the moments after starting H2K were not easy. Most of the problems were due to the insufficient resources as a startup. In the beginning, securing funds were difficult, but now it is not easy to secure staff members.

The most difficult moment was the first half of 2018. At that time, our balance was hitting the bottom, and it was difficult to persuade investors with an idea and prototype. I was desperate at every presentation. When I received the results of being selected for a large scale government support project, I remember shouting of joy and relief with my team members.

It seems like a common problem that all entrepreneurs face. It must have been difficult to challenge with items and technologies at a stage without enough funds, but the startup ecosystem has been able to develop because of the respectful entrepreneurs challenging to solve problems in the society. Also, the problem of the lack of team members is also not easy, but it will soon be solved once people learn about H2K’s charms. It would be nice if H2K participates in the Startup-ting at Startup KAIST as well.

What is the next service H2K is preparing?

In the short term, we are preparing ‘Sojung Hangul School’, and in the mid/long term we are preparing an English education service. We received requests for both services from the customers’ side, so demand has already been verified. With our team who created a No. 1 service in a short period of time, we expect to create a satisfying service for both ‘Sojung Hangul School’ and the English education service.

Beyond Hangul education, H2K is expanding into a general language education service. With the success of Sojung Hangul, we expect that the English education service will be successful and distinct from other companies.

What is H2K’s ultimate goal?

If all children are able to easily read, write, and speak Korean through Sojung Hangul, we will have achieved our initial goal. Eventually, we want to be remembered as a company giving children the joy of learning.

Giving children the joy of learning is a wonderful expression. H2K is a company founded by two robot Ph.D. students. Although at first it was a niche market targeting children with dyslexia, it has opened a new market to Hangul phonics education. Sojung Hangul opened the horizon that phonics education is possible for Hangul like English. ‘Sojung Hangul’ allows children to learn by themselves and enjoy through games. It has also been introduced as one of the ‘2019 App of the year’ in Apple’s App store. We hope H2K grows into a larger language education service company by solving the problems of dyslexia and also cooperating with other educational institutions.

This was CEO Changki Hong of H2K.

[Startup Interview] CTO Tae-Ho Kim of “Nota”, an On-device AI company based on deep learning model compression technology

Today we will meet CTO Tae-Ho Kim of Nota, a company with a motto of creating a convenient world using AI.

The AI model compression technology developed by Nota supports a variety of products, and is cost and time-efficient for product and service development. Through an automatic AI compression platform called NetsPresso, Nota expands into a business utilizing AI and compression solutions. Let’s meet CTO Tae-Ho Kim of Nota!

Can you briefly introduce Nota?

Hello, Nota develops and researches deep learning model compression technologies to help other companies use their AI models more efficiently. We help minimize costs for customers with AI models on servers, and enable customers operating AI models on edges to use cheaper but higher performance models on the same edge. We also develop compression AI models such as face authentication and vehicle detection.

Deep learning compression technology for AI operated on edges like smartphones and drones will help efficient operation on other devices as well. Using Nota’s technology, compression technology that does not rely on high-performance servers will reduce costs in various aspects.

Why did Nota decide on this item as its startup product?

We initially did not start with this specific item. Our first startup item was an AI solution on smartphone soft keyboards that helps reduce typos. During the solution development process, we realized the difficulty of running AI on devices, and decided to pivot to solve the chronic issue of heavy AI models.

Although the item is different, it seems to be still based on AI. Nota is one of the early startup teams from the student startup audition program E*5. Since then, Nota has drawn a blueprint for artificial intelligence, which has led to the current AI deep learning model compression technology!

Recently, the number of AI companies is increasing. What is unique about Nota, and what advantages does the company have?

First, I believe that most AI companies develop AI solutions in specific fields. Nota has these AI companies as customers and help them streamline AI models through our AI compression technology. As the demand and solution for AI increase, the experience of Nota and our platform NetsPresso will help people wanting to apply AI in the real world.

Unlike other companies that develop AI solutions, Nota collaborates with other companies, pursues efficiency of AI models, and develops an automated AI model compression platform called NetsPresso.

Can you explain more about Nota’s automated AI model compression platform ‘NetsPresso’?

NetsPresso is an automated deep learning model compression platform. If users input their deep learning model, NetsPresso compresses the input model into a lighter model. NetsPresso receives AI models, datasets, target HW, and the customers’ requirements as the input.

NetsPresso consists largely of a compression technology pool, device pool, optimization algorithms, and compression pipelines. A compression technology pool includes various compression technologies like Network Pruning and Quantization, and other technologies that Nota is developing. NetsPresso selects various compression technologies in the pool to an input model, and the optimization algorithms decide how and which compression technology to use. When the algorithm determines the technologies, it chooses the optimal combination of compression technologies to the target HW inputted by the customer. Then, the device pool builds the model onto the connected target HW and measures the performance in that HW.

NetsPresso can solve the problems of heavy AI models and computations customers face, and reduce costs to customers. NetsPresso aims to deliver realistic values such as enabling AI on-devices.

NetsPresso is the optimized platform to apply compression technologies to AI devices. It can solve existing problems and increase efficiency by applying various compression technologies to input models through optimization algorithms. With NetsPresso, anyone can easily and cheaply compress AI models, which explains why any companies, including domestic large corporations, form partnerships with Nota.

What does Nota wish to establish through AI model compression and on-device AI solutions?

AI’s capabilities and growth are explosive, but there are many barriers until AI completely integrates with our lives, the main reason being the heavy size and computations of AI models. Through AI model compression and on-device AI solutions, we want AI to have positive effects on our lives.

AI’s growth rate is extremely fast and dynamic. In the midst, there are still challenges to be solved, but we expect NetsPresso to solve compression technology issues and reduce the time and costs involved.

What are the difficulties in compressing AI models, how does Nota overcome them?

AI models are extremely large and has a lot of computations. To compress AI models, there are various methods such as Network Pruning, Quantization, Knowledge Distillation, and Filter Decomposition. Each technique is mainly studied in academia. Thus, to utilize these techniques in the industry for compression, a deep understanding of the model and know-hows of appropriately utilizing techniques depending on the given model and dataset are required. NetsPresso is an automated compression platform that helps effectively compress models, which was previously done by humans. As I explained about NetsPresso earlier, NetsPresso can automate the compression process and make it easier and more effective.

Compressing AI model sounds like a difficult task. Nevertheless, Nota succeeded in developing an automated platform, NetsPresso, that has replaced human work, making the compression process more convenient.

Nota is known to collaborate with other companies. What kind of collaborations are there and how is Nota’s technology being used?

Nota’s business areas can be divided into three main categories – the compression business, face authentication solution, and an intelligent transportation system business that uses compressed solutions. For businesses that uses compression technologies, we collaborate with companies that already have AI models or are planning on commercialization through AI models. For example, a company that uses AI models on edge devices such as drones or AI cameras can use lighter equipment and more camera channels through AI model compression. In addition, we collaborate with companies that use cloud servers to service AI to help reduce the cloud GPU usage.

Other than compression businesses, we also provide solutions using compression technologies. Our face authentication solution helps manage entrance to construction sites, and buildings. You can check out more collaboration businesses through the link below.

https://nota.ai/news.php

It seems that Nota’s technology is competitive enough without the collaboration with other companies. We can see that compression technologies can be utilized in many businesses, and is already widely used. Nota’s technology has positive impact on our lives, including reducing traffic jams. (Please click the link above to see how the technology is used in the real world)

There must be a change in the environment since Nota first prepared to start a business. What are some differences, and what advice can you give to KAIST students who want to start a business?

Nota was established in 2015. As a graduate student, I focused on research, but I saw that the numerous research, including mine, was limited to academia. I wanted to directly solve the problems in society and decided to start a business. During the startup process, we experienced difficulties while pivoting, but overcame them with support of team members and the thought that we could still solve the problems in the society. When you are experiencing hardships during the startup process, remember why you started this journey.

It’s been a while since Nota first started the business. The success of Nota lies in the potential in AI and the team members. Unlike other AI companies, Nota went through pivoting, but successfully created an automated AI model compression platform. Paying attention to what the society and world needs is a good starting point in starting a business!

What is Nota’s ultimate goal and vision?

There is a huge difference between life 10 years ago and life today. I believe there will be a big difference in life today and 10 years from now as well. In an era of explosive growth in artificial intelligence, impacting people through technology is touching. When AI is projected into our lives and society and causes various changes, I want to solve the problem of size and computation of models that become barriers to these changes. Through this, I wish AI enriches people’s lives.

Who knew that the AI era would come so rapidly? Just two years ago, no one expected COVID-19 to invade our lives. When AI was first introduced, people thought that AI could danger our lives, but now there isn’t a device that does not use AI. In this era of AI, the company Nota not only provides AI solutions but also develops AI model compression technology that can help these solutions. With its groundbreaking AI model compression technology, Nota is attracting attention around the world and has also been introduced at CES 2020 as well as CES 2021. We look forward to the prospective work of Nota.

This was CTO Tae-Ho Kim of Nota.

[Startup Interview] CEO of Waddle, a startup developing ‘Sori Market’, an AI-based barrier-free shopping platform for blind people, Jihyuk Park

Today we will meet the CEO Jihyuk Park of Waddle, a student startup awarded with the special prize in the 12th E*5 KAIST.

Waddle develops ‘Sori Market’ that converts image data into audio so blind people can also shop online. Let’s meet CEO Jihyuk Park of Waddle!

Can you briefly introduce Waddle and yourself?

Hello, I am Jihyuk Park, the founder of Waddle, a startup that illuminates the blind spots of technology innovation.

Waddle started as a KAIST student startup team in 2018 to reduce the digital gap of blind people, and launched ‘Sori Market’, a barrier-free shopping platform that resolves the accessibility problems of existing shopping malls using AI. Currently, Waddle is researching an audio-based and more intuitive interface that benefits everyone.

Buying items with sound. A sound market for blind people sounds very unique! Let’s hear more about it.

Waddle develops technology for the digitally underprivileged. How did Waddle decide on this item as its startup product, and what made you interested in creating a technology for the blind?

When I was a junior in High School, I wanted to create a wearable robot like Iron Man and entered the Mechanical Engineering department at KAIST to research rehabilitation robots. I felt that technology is an area that can completely change someone’s life, and have been developing and researching disability aids for the past seven years.

I became interested in the problems that the blind face after I entered college, when I interned at a domestic startup developing braille smartwatches and met a blind customer, who became my friend. He had no problem in daily life, like eating or going to the bathroom, but had difficulty using simple features of smartphones, which made me reflect on the digital gap.

Before this digital gap became more serious, I thought about what I could do and started the team Waddle. I gathered team members who were also interested in the problem and worked together, which eventually led to starting a business.

So, Waddle’s item is based on CEO Park’s first-hand experience. It is easy to disregard a problem, but it seems like CEO Park’s passion and research to resolve the digital gap led to starting Waddle. In addition, it must have been a difficult decision considering the profits of the startup, but the consideration for the underprivileged makes Waddle special.

Compared to the existing screen readers of other startups for the blind, what is ‘Sori Market’s uniqueness and advantages?

Blind people can use smartphones using screen readers that reads the text on smartphones like VoiceOver in iPhones and TalkBack in Androids.

However, these screen readers can only read texts, and cannot read text within images or non-texts, which is problematic because most domestic online shopping malls include details of a product in an image file. Existing screen readers can only read limited information like the name and price of the product. However, Waddle’s Sori Market can extract text using OCR and post-processing technology to read text information in product images.

In addition, to solve the accessibility problem of existing payment modules that wouldn’t allow screen readers due to security programs, Sori Market supports a highly accessible in-app payment system and a review sharing community ‘Sori Village’ that allows sharing of reviews between blind users. This allows the blind to shop online independently without other people’s help.

I was not even aware of the existence of screen readers in smartphones. It seems like there is a limit to the existing screen readers, making it difficult for the blind to obtain detailed information. Sori Market opens the way for the blind to shop independently. We hope more companies and brands join Sori Market.

There might be a limit to delivering image information through sound. How does Waddle overcome these limits?

Currently, it is difficult to deliver non-text information like the color or texture of the product because of the limit in current technology. In addition, screen readers cannot deliver the size, font, position of the text in the image, so it makes it difficult for the blind to understand the context.

Thus, Sori Market was not developed to simply deliver the text in images, but focused on accurately delivering the information. Sori Market was designed for users to easily and quickly access the desired data by grouping text based on the paragraph composition and context, filtering unnecessary information, and classifying to which title a text belongs.

In addition, we research AI engines that extract the characteristics of products to guide non-textual information such as color or texture, and provide optimized speech interfaces.

Focusing on delivering the product accurately would be more beneficial to the blind. From the perspective of receiving information, it is more convenient to filter unnecessary information to purchase products. In particular, it is not easy for the blind to perceive information and also go through the payment process, but Sori Market will become a strong advantage. Continuously communicating through reviews and supplementing the interface will lead to a better service in the future.

Waddle is a technology-based startup as well as a social enterprise. Since Waddle targets a specific audience, there may be difficulties in profit aspects. Is there a strategy to strike a balance between the two?

Starting with the digital gap problem that blind people face, Waddle will continue to research and develop intuitive UXs that can embrace all the digitally underprivileged who are not used to the online environment. We will expand our business so more and more people will be able to use Waddle’s service. In addition, the technologies and services that help those who cannot easily use innovative technology will surely become helpful for everyone, and in this process profit will naturally follow. To achieve this vision, Waddle is developing intuitive voice interface solutions based on AI technology, and will prove that technology for the underprivileged can benefit everyone.

In the current digital era, everyone should benefit from technology, but there are surprisingly a lot of people who are underprivileged. Waddle is transforming the technology for the underprivileged using AI technology. As CEO Park said, we hope Waddle’s service develops and expands to the global market, becoming more available to everyone.

The Waddle team participated in E*5 KAIST, and also participated in another company’s venture program. What are some differences between programs by schools and companies? How can we improve startup support programs like E*5 KAIST?

Waddle participated in 2018 Spring E*5 KAIST and also won an award. I remember creating a team and quickly selecting the startup item to participate in the program. At that time, I didn’t know much about startups, but E*5 KAIST was an opportunity to learn about the customer discovery phase and how to create a service. The program was a valuable opportunity to receive support as an early startup team, such as office space in W8 (Startup KAIST), networking with startup seniors, and MVP production through Idea Factory.

The biggest advantage and difference of participating in programs by large companies or institutions after officially launching the service are the infrastructure they provide, like huge financial support and independent space. In addition, we receive support for business expansion and commercialization opportunities, such as investment attraction, scale-up, and legal advices.

In my opinion, rather than improving E*5 KAIST, I would like to tell people that startup teams can first participate in school startup support programs to gain basic knowledge and experience, then participate in programs by large companies or institutions to officially expand the business.

E*5 KAIST is the easiest way for undergraduates to try out startups. Startup support programs by companies is an opportunity for startup teams to scale-up after growing with school startup programs. If you are interested in startups, it is a good idea to first participate in school programs, then challenge in large-scale company startup support programs.

Waddle recently moved the office from Daejeon to Seoul. What are some advantages?

The headquarters is still located in Daejeon, and Waddle continues to interact with KAIST, startup-related institutions, and other Daejeon-based startups. We recently had an opportunity to move-in to a shared office in Seoul, and now most members work in Seoul. One of the advantages of moving to Seoul is that we became closer to other companies, startup institutions, and investment companies, and there are more opportunities for networking. In addition, we can meet many startups at similar stages to share and give advice on business ideas.

Having two offices in Daejeon and Seoul allows more opportunities for networking, and makes travelling easier! This sounds like a beneficial for entrepreneurs to work more efficiently.

What is Waddle’s next goal and future development item?

Waddle’s next goal is to develop an audio interface and related AI technology based on Sori Market to create a voice shopping platforms for all digitally underprivileged, such as the blind, the elderly, and people with development disabilities. Using the data accumulated on Sori Market, such as the review sharing community ‘Review Village’, we hope to develop a service that allows convenient search, curation, customer service, and payment through audio.

What is Waddle’s ultimate goal?

Waddle’s mission is to make technology more available to people, and create a technology that can benefit everyone. Starting with an online shopping platform ‘Sori Market’ for the blind, we will grow into a company that continuously develops audio-based inclusive designs and related AI technology to provide various audio interface solutions.

Waddle dreams of a digital world where everyone can enjoy and use technology easily. We look forward to contributing to this through Waddle’s intuitive audio interface.

Waddle develops technology that targets the digitally underprivileged as customers. Sori Market, an online shopping platform that uses machine learning to read details of products, allows for the blind to enjoy online shopping independently. We believe Waddle will reduce the digital gap between the underprivileged and the general public. For everyone to benefit from technology like Waddle’s ultimate goal, more companies like Waddle must arise. We support and look forward to Waddle’s global voice shopping platform!

This was CEO Jihyuk Park of Waddle.

[Startup Interview] CEO Gwak Kiuk of “bHaptics”, a CES2021 recognized company developing VR/AR haptic suits, TactSuit

The company we will meet today is bHaptics, the company who won the ‘CES 2021 Innovation Award’ for its haptic suit called Tactsuit X40 at CES 2021. bHaptics innovated the VR industry after developing the next generation haptic suit by combining VR and the sense of touch, and is well-known abroad.

Let’s meet CEO Gwak Kiuk of bHaptics!

Can you briefly introduce bHaptics?

Hello, we are bHaptics, a company creating a world where reproducing and delivering not only the visual and auditory but also tactile sensations is possible. Our vision is “Bring Haptics to Your Life”, and our goal is to commercialize the haptic technology HW/SW research and development to the B2C level so that our devices and services can be used in everyday life around the world.

Delivering tactile sensations remotely is thinking outside the box! Developing both hardware and software haptic technology is one of the strengths of bHaptics as well.

How did bHaptics decide on this item as the startup product?

One of the fields I was researching during my Ph.D. was Haptic, and the prospects of VR after Facebook acquired Oculus in 2015 was a big reason as well. However, the main reason was my recklessness because I was not aware of how difficult and frightening starting a business was.

Out of the various items we considered, Haptic devices were the most unfamiliar to the public and should be developed overseas rather than in Korea. The market we could refer to for devices and services was also unclear. And yet, I thought if we make a new device that people can use, we could directly contribute to the development of the world as engineers. Although it will be difficult, let’s try while we’re young!

I believe there was a prospect that the VR market will become active in 2015 but the hype went down. Recently, more customers are looking for VR due to COVID-19, and the interest in VR/AR markets increased as VR-related programs aired on TV. We look forward to bHaptics contributions to the VR market.

The haptics field is not familiar. Can you explain about the field?

Haptics is delivering information from machine to human, or human to machine through sensations of touch. For example, moving chairs in 4D movie theaters is a haptic feedback device. If we can also send an emoticon in KakaoTalk that also delivers vibrations, this is also a haptic feedback.

In the case of audio and visual sensations, this information can be stored and delivered to a level that is similar to what people actually see and hear through cameras, microphones, monitors and speakers. However, there is a lack of research on touch sensation, and haptic devices and applications have not been commercialized yet.

bHaptics’s device will have more demand because it is not a simple VR device, but a haptic suit that allows users to detect touch sensations. People usually consider visual and auditory sensations, but overlook touch. However, more research on haptic needs to be done. The challenge of bHaptics on haptics will broaden the understanding of the field.

What is unique about bHaptics TactSuit from existing haptic suits?

Our Tactsuit may not be very different from existing haptic suits because they have not been commercialized yet. However previously, 2~6 complicated and expensive vibration motors were attached to the front and back of the suit to create vibration waveforms with audio signals. Our TactSuit uses 40 relatively cheaper vibration motors that significantly improves spatial resolution and that detects not only audio signals, but also other digital signals using Bluetooth.

Through this change, TactSuit evolved not into am independently operating hardware, but a platform that adjusts to the software controlling it.

People who are not interested in this field are probably unaware of haptic suits. To summarize, existing haptic suits were more complex and expensive in the past, but bHaptics’ TactSuit can be controlled by Bluetooth and increased variability. The biggest advantage of TactSuit is the ability to adapt to various software.

bHaptics recently won the innovation award for TactSuit X40. What are some distinctions of TactSuit, and what has changed since receiving the award?

I believe TactSuit X40 was awarded the innovation award not only because of the innovation in hardware, but also for its compatibility with various software.

Our greatest strength is that our device is easily compatible with various contents due to our SDK. We are working hard to integrate our device with more contents through various software support such as an editor that easily creates spatial and temporal patterns using 40 vibration motors, visual scripting-based plugins that can be applied to various game engines, audio-to-haptic algorithms that transforms real-time sound content output into haptic patterns.

The connection and integration between software and hardware is becoming more important recently. As CEO Gwak mentioned, TactSuit itself is a hardware, but won the innovation award at CES 2021 due to its high compatibility with various software. We believe the compatibility to various contents and game engines became a positive factor.

bHaptics is more well-known abroad, and overseas revenue is the main sales. What are some ways to increase revenue in the domestic market?

There were many attempts but VR has not been commercialized yet in Korea. bHaptics is planning to launch consoles, and PC games along with VR. Although it will be difficult to overcome the difference between the overseas and domestic market and the number of customers, we believe the number of domestic customers will increase as we expand our contents and platform. Especially in Korea and China, we are considering connecting our devices to PC games and renting devices in PC rooms. We will be able to speed this process once COVID-19 is over.

Renting devices in PC rooms seems like the best way to promote, but the COVID-19 situation is rather unfortunate. It is also difficult to commercialize products because of the price. Nevertheless, we expect the VR industry will boom if VR game YouTubers and VR devices become more well-known.

There aren’t many hardware startups in Korea, and it is difficult to succeed as one. How did bHaptics overcome these difficulties, and how should hardware startups proceed?

All startups are difficult, but starting a hardware startup is more difficult than starting a software startup because of the lack thereof.

It is ambiguous whether this is an advantage or a disadvantage, but Korea is more of a manufacturing powerhouse. Starting a business in Korea has clear advantages than starting in the U.S./Europe with the same idea, in terms of hardware manufacturing. I didn’t know this when I first started the business, but it was really helpful to rule out competitors. In addition, hardware startups are more funded by the government.

Thus, if you want to start a hardware startup, I want to say that the domestic is not a bad option. The current software boom is a result of the smartphone hardware, so I hope more hardware startups arise.

However, in order to gain competitiveness, it is essential to note that not only hardware but also software must be differentiated from other companies. The hardware itself must be compelling, but there should be an extra barrier of software that can’t be overcome by others. In addition, the hardware will be more competitive if it can acquire and utilize data of users that can only be done at the hardware level. The essence is a hardware startup, but the company should internalize hardware design and planning, manufacture with domestic partners, and build software capabilities equivalent to software startups.

It may be difficult to start a hardware startup because there aren’t many hardware startups in Korea, but this can become an advantage. Utilizing government funding for hardware startups and gaining competitiveness will help become a secure company. bHaptics successfully gained its competitive edge, and is becoming well-known and secure abroad and in Korea as well. In addition, it is important to accompany software and hardware.

Can you give a word to KAIST students interested in starting a business?

To be honest, I thought 3 years would be enough to see the end of this business when I first started. It took me long to realize and accept how naïve I was back then. There are many other instances where expectations differ from reality. To overcome and survive these, one must have a set goal to hypnotize himself. Starting one thing is easy, but it is difficult to maintain. If you can survive and persist, time and world will give you an opportunity one day. It may be a long and difficult journey, but I suggest startups to those who want to contribute to the world. You can do it!

Beginning something is difficult, but ending it is another process. However, there is a means and end only if there is a start! Because bHaptics started a challenge, we were able to promote the field of Haptics and be recognized in CES2021. If you are hesitant on starting a business, I recommend trying it.

What is bHaptics’ next and ultimate goal?

We will continue to develop our haptic devices and software to deliver not only audio-visual but also tactile senses remotely to everyone around the world. In the short-term, we will develop various software services that can bring users to one interface and develop new devices. In the long term, this will become a standard in touch sensation delivery, which is important in the metabus era.

With the expansion of the VR market, bHaptics will become more influential in the market. Already well-known abroad, there will be more domestic customers looking for haptic suits, and the expansion to PC and console fields will create an environment where VR can be enjoyed with simplified haptics suits. The smooth integration of hardware and software will allow more realistic haptic sensations and lead to development of new devices. We look forward to bHaptics playing a pivotal role in the metabus era and open a new horizon for VR.

This was CEO Gwak Kiuk of bHaptics!

[Startup Interview] CEO Changhak Yeon of “Block Odyssey”, a company developing an integrated logistics platform using blockchain, data, and unique QR code technology

After graduating K-School and creating a Student Startup, CEO Changhak Yeon of Block Odyssey wishes to establish a Startup Learning Center to support startups by the younger generation. Block Odyssey is a logistics blockchain startup that develops the ‘Digital Signature Inserting QR Code’ technology to safely share data and creates an integrated logistics platform.

Let’s meet CEO Yeon of Block Odyssey!

Can you briefly introduce Block Odyssey?

Hello, we are Block Odyssey, a company building a logistics blockchain infrastructure. I started the company in 2017 Winter with 4 colleagues to innovate the logistics process through blockchain technology. We can bring various values by innovating the logistics process using blockchains, and the project we are focusing on is the “authentication solution”. This solution is becoming more widely used in areas like SCM solution and second-hand market solutions.

Authentication solutions can detect fake imported goods from China. Since fake products are prevalent in foreign markets, if the solution can detect such products at the logistics level, it will be able to prevent the activation of faked goods market.

Authentication solutions can detect fake imported goods from China. Since fake products are prevalent in foreign markets, if the solution can detect such products at the logistics level, it will be able to prevent the activation of faked goods market.

Our initial startup product was a completely different item from now. We were originally preparing pet-related item to resolve distorted information in the pet market. After looking for technology to overcome markets full of distorted information, we learned about blockchain technology and decided to utilize it in our business. While we were preparing the business, Initial Coin Offering (ICO) was a hot issue, so we prepared to issue tokens. As we researched blockchains more deeply, we decided not to proceed with ICO, and thought of businesses that does not utilize cribs, which was logistics. In addition, based on my experience with NFC-based authentication solution, I started this business with confidence that I could combine blockchain and QR code to create a more secure and cheaper authentication solution.

So this is an item that came up while looking for a business based on blockchain technology. Working experience comes handy when starting a business.

What is the difference between existing QR codes and Block Odyssey’s digital signature QR codes?

QR codes have recently been widely used to authenticate products and check information at distribution sites. Anyone can easily scan QR codes, but the low security that comes with it is a big disadvantage. To overcome this disadvantage, separate encryption or digital signature technology must be applied. However, applying encryption and digital signatures greatly increases the data capacity of QR codes. If digital signatures are applied to existing QR codes, standard QR code readers cannot read the codes, so a separate dedicated QR scanner is required. Block Odyssey solved this problem by developing a unique QR code with compression and encoding technology. Block Odyssey’s unique QR codes can also be read by standard QR scanners. Furthermore, scanning QR codes with our application will also show encrypted information, so we are using this as a marketing tool to induce app downloads.

Block Odyssey’s QR codes seem much more secure than existing QR codes! Is the exclusive QR scanner provided by Block Odyssey? Can we see the application developed by Block Odyssey?

An exclusive scanner can be used or QR code scanning feature can be implemented in each company’s application. Even when scanning the same QR code, different activities will be available for different applications. For example, if company A issues a QR code, customers who scan using a standard QR code scanner (e.g. Naver, Kakao) will only be able to see basic information like “This product is an original”. If customers want to get points or want to extend the A/S period, then they are encouraged to download the specific company’s application.

There are many fields that apply blockchain technology. Why did you specifically choose the distribution and logistics field, and what are some examples using the blockchain technology in the field?

As a person in the blockchain industry, I do not deny Crypto, but I thought issuing Crypto in the absence of solutions and a token ecosystem was against my belief. I first decided to create a blockchain-based solution, and to do this, a private blockchain that only authorized people can write and verify seemed more interesting than public blockchains. Since the logistics industry needed the sharing and connection of data between companies the most, we naturally selected the distribution and logistics sectors to start the business. Although logistics blockchain is at the beginning stage in Korea, various experiments and developments using blockchains are being carried out overseas, including the “TradeLens” project by IBM and Maersk, and the “Aura” project by LVMH and Microsoft.

Security seems to emerge as the main issue in the logistics field. Since overseas companies deal with security using blockchains, Korean companies should also do so. We hope domestic startups like Block Odyssey deal with security and leads the logistics sector.

How can blockchain technology provide open innovation on data sharing, when it is so highly secure? What will be the impact on the market in the future?

Data is the core of the fourth industrial revolution in the 21st century. Many companies are attempting digital transformation to make data-based decisions, and have been developing IoT and AI technology to collect and process data. However, large platform companies are monopolizing data, and the data gap between rich and poor phenomenon is accelerating. To compete with large companies, data exchange through collaboration between companies is necessary. The problem is that there was no reliable means for companies to share each other’s data. Blockchain is the most appropriate platform to solve this problem. Blockchain technology provides transparent data sharing and reward distribution. Through this technology, many companies will form alliances and joint business, which will be the opportunity to challenge large, powerful platforms.

In a data flooding era, the sharing of data seems to be important. If blockchains strengthens the security, it will lead to an Open Innovation where companies can safely and reliably share data. We hope Block Odyssey becomes the center and lead the collaboration processes in the logistics sector.

Block Odyssey currently mainly deals with B2B business. Do you have any plans to use this technology in the B2C field? If so, how will you implement it?

Block Odyssey’s blockchain logistics business endeavored to innovate the process from product manufacturing to consumer purchases. Now, we are trying to innovate the consumer-to-consumer transactions (secondhand) using blockchains. We are working to innovate the secondhand business using Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) technology.

I never thought of utilizing blockchains in the secondhand market. Secondhand markets like ‘Carrot market’ are growing, and introducing blockchains might become complicated for consumers. A clear and safe system seems necessary for customers.

Blockchains is a hot issue worldwide. How is Block Odyssey’s blockchain technology different from others?

Existing logistics blockchain startups have mainly been using “Hyperleisure Fabric”, but this was considered inappropriate in logistics. On the other hand, Block Odyssey uses the new “Hyperledger Sawtooth”, which is more appropriate for the logistics platform. Sawtooth is a blockchain specialized for logistics/distribution led by Intel and Salesforce, and is a framework that enables infinite node expansion with speed. Block Odyssey is the only Korean company that has succeeded in commercializing Hyperledger sawtooth, and we have been recognized for our technology on the official website of Hyperledge, the world’s largest blockchain foundation.

Blockchains have been used in the logistics sector, but with a limit to the existing technology. The new blockchain technology Sawtooth developed by Block Odyssey seems more appropriate for logistics and distribution. We look forward to the commercialization of the Sawtooth technology in Korea. We hope Block Odyssey’s technology becomes widely used in the logistics industry.

What is the next item Block Odyssey is planning or developing?

Block Odyssey’s next goal is the finance field, such as the meat mortgage market. Meat importers trade hundreds of billions of units per import. As a result, meat collateral loans are not reliable due to frequent frauds, such as changing the manufactured place or deceiving the meat grades. To solve this problem, Block Odyssey is developing a reliable solution by putting small cameras and IoT chips in meat import containers to record the status and distribution stage of meat in blockchains. We are also developing a solution that can predict changes in meat in real-time with other AI startups, and plan to release this solution in the second half of 2021.

Using blockchains in the meat industry is very unique! Blockchains and IoT will be able to prevent fraud, and customers will be more relieved. Working with other AI startups will also affect the startup ecosystem. We hope the technology you mentioned prevents illegal distribution and preserves meat conditions for the customers.

You mentioned building a startup learning center at KAIST. Do you have any words to KAIST students?

Starting a business is hard and difficult. However, many people say that the next 10 years will be the peak season for startups. Traditional large corporations like Samsung and Hyundai, and new IT corporations like Naver, and Kakao are actively investing as well as cooperating with startups. More than 7 trillion won in venture funds are being invested in startups. In addition, there are many excellent government funded startup support programs like TIPS. If you are willing to express full potential and capabilities, there are many support and opportunities from the government, other businesses, and seniors. Challenge yourself with courage and confidence!

I hope many students become more interested in starting a business after reading this interview. In the future, startups, not large corporations, will impact and create a new world. In Korea as CEO Yeon mentioned, large corporations are investing in startups, and KAIST as well is investing in startup activation. Startup KAIST programs are only available when you are a student, so keep in mind!

What is Block Odyssey’s ultimate goal?

We want to organize the standard logistics blockchain in Korea. Realistically, I don’t think a single blockchain platform can govern the world’s logistics data. The logistics process and ecosystem in each country is different, so blockchain platforms representing each country will emerge. The data exchange between these blockchain platforms will become important in distribution and logistics between countries. Although are currently a small startup, we will develop into a logistics blockchain platform representing Korea, work with global logistics operators like Amazon, Alibaba, Rakuten, and also grow into a company that provides reliable data exchange in global trade.

Block Odyssey creates a logistics platform using new blockchain technology to improve the distribution and logistics process. Block Odyssey’s unique digital signature QR code technology will prevent fraud and guarantee safety in the logistics sector. We hope the company becomes the bridgehead to prevent forgeries and financial frauds in the current data era. We also look forward to CEO Yeon’s startup learning center at KAIST and his influence on younger students interested in startups.

This was CEO Changhak Yeon of “Block Odyssey”!