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The Stereotype That Sarawak Is Still Behind In Tech? This AI Startup Proves It Wrong.

Author’s Blurb: Growing up in Sarawak, I often heard from adults that Sarawak was too slow paced to have good job opportunities or even innovation. However, now I’m beginning to realise that it might not be so true, and that my hometown does have a lot to offer. People just don’t realise it yet.

Chai Kok Chin, or KC, is a researcher with a Ph.D in Electronic and Computer who also hails from Sarawak, and he realised that he could play a part in helping our homeland thrive with AI.

Over his years of research, he understood the gap between the academic and industry. He explained, “Much of our distinguished research is always kept in the library, laboratory, or archived. It is not being publicly introduced and delivered to the industry as most researchers focus on academic publication rather than real industry applications.”

Thus, he found it essential to bridge the gap between the two to bring forward research outcomes and benefit the industries, overall contributing to a greater technology growth within Malaysia.

After gaining support from contacts and research institutes, KC and his co-founders Marcus and Yang Loong founded NEUON AI Sdn Bhd (NEUON) in December 2018.

They aim to revolutionise local industries, particularly in manufacturing, agriculture and system management, by introducing their technology in computer vision, machine learning, and IoT.

Using AI For 3 Different Industries

NEUON is currently working on several products and services, one of which is an interactive and intelligence advertisement platform called NEUON-BOX with a Smart Advertisement Management System (SAMS) that’s ready for use in shopping malls, tourists spots, airports, and more.

Using AI facial recognition technology, NEUON-BOX helps advertisers reach their target audience by being able to identify viewer preferences based on facial demographics. This also enables them to create interactive advertisements to attract the attention of passersby.

Image Credit: NEUON

They’re also working on a Plantation Management System that consists of two modules, Centre of Crop Disease Control (CCDC) and Centre of Precision Farming (CPF).

CCDC is a solution where farmers only need to capture and upload an image of their farm using their smartphone. The AI powered platform will then identify problems and offer guidance like symptom descriptions, possible treatments and preventive measures.

For their work with CCDC, they won the first three prizes at the International Plant Recognition Competition (Plant CLEF2019) in France, and were selected as an official collaborator of Pl@ntNet app, an AI tool to identify plants with pictures.

Meanwhile, CPF is able to perform automated detection, counting, inspection, monitoring, and more with the help of a local remote sensing specialist. It is currently being deployed to help local authorities and companies monitor their palm oil estates.

Lastly, they also offer a customisable Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to help businesses with digitising transactions and task records.

Helping Out The Homeland

So, it’s clear that Sarawak has its own technological advancements to boast, but oftentimes, you’d hear of companies moving to more urbanised areas to launch an idea.

On why NEUON decided to start in Sarawak, KC said that he believes the state needs to retain her own talents and create opportunities for advancement.

“We have many talents in Sarawak, however, they are forced to leave their hometown due to the limited job opportunities, especially in advanced technology such as AI. As a result, Sarawak hardly excels towards industry 4.0,” he shared.

By doing what they do, NEUON is working in line with the government’s vision for Sarawak’s digital economy and helping the state create opportunities to retain talents.

A knowledge sharing session by NEUON / Image Credit: NEUON

Furthermore, KC stated that if NEUON was based in West Malaysia, it would be a competitive scene. Compare that to Sarawak, where they have the opportunity to serve a niche in the local market.

With the Sarawak Digital Economy plan, it is also foreseen that many industries will begin transforming their businesses from labour oriented manufacturing lines to technology oriented production.

This is where NEUON can help with achieving that vision and sharing their expertise in information technology and AI.

The state is already moving out of its infancy stage bit by bit to become a smart community, as can be seen from how courts in Sarawak are set to use AI to help judges with guidelines and analyses, IoT being used for smart farming in Rampangi, and the development of cashless initiatives like Sarawak Pay, to name a few.

Further Opportunities For Growth

Despite having clients both in West Malaysia and Sarawak, NEUON’s priority at the moment is on local Sarawak based clients.

KC and his team plan to lead NEUON in both a horizontal and vertical growth. “For horizontal, we aim to expand our technology to new markets, whereby we further improve and strengthen our technology in vertical growth.”

“As an example, our facial recognition technology is first used in NEUON-BOX for interactive and intelligence marketing initiatives. We are currently applying it to attendance systems and access controls,” he shared.

They’ll be strengthening their facial recognition algorithm towards being more robust against changes in the environment too.

NEUON also wants to inspire, nurture, and educate local talents towards the Sarawak’s journey of becoming an advanced and smart community.

“Last but not least, we are endeavouring to commercialise our solutions and enhance the business visibility,” KC said, and he welcomes those who share the same vision to reach out and join them.

Bottom Line: I may no longer reside in Sarawak, but seeing East Malaysian startups break out of the mould and stereotypes (that sometimes even their own community believes) never fails to make me proud.

  • You can read about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: NEUON

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