ASTRIAN Stories

Hugh Chow, Chief Executive Officer, ASTRI
ASTRI’s CEO Hugh Chow, Hong Kong-born and raised, was an early achiever and a trained pilot for whom the sky is quite literally the limit. An engineer from HKU who was determined to soar high, he founded his own company and expanded it worldwide, securing many patents along the way, before returning to Hong Kong to lead ASTRI.

Leave nothing to regret and do your best for society

Story #1

My father grew up during WWII and received little education, working odd jobs at a time when occupational safety was not a priority, and he lost a hand. It was a miracle he survived, let alone raise and feed a family.

This put tremendous perspective into me – to know that opportunities must not be wasted and what perseverance really means. It gave me my work ethic and set my tone for life.

I chose to study the hardest of the hard degrees I could find – electrical engineering at the University of Hong Kong – back when Hong Kong had only two universities.

Engineers learn all the cool stuff that changes society and that is what we do at ASTRI.

No tech for tech’s sake, but what betters lives.

In our pursuit, ASTRI has become a world leader in 5G technology, FinTech, AI, IoT and Semiconductors. I am very fortunate to be working with so many smart brains to bring solutions to business, make the economy more competitive, and build a smart city of Hong Kong.

Edward Lor, Director, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics
Edward obtained his PhD in computer science from the University of California in Los Angeles. His areas of interest include cyber security, smart city applications as well as training. He brings over three decades of experience in the tech industry to guide ASTRI in exploring new R&D initiatives and collaborations with industry partners.

Learning is lifelong - and limitless in its applications

Story #2

E-learning may now be a common form of learning, but ASTRI is truly one of the pioneers of the format, having for years been rolling out e-learning solutions that have benefitted a variety of sectors.

More than 200 schools have adapted award-winning ASTRI e-learning solutions such as classroom management systems, e-learning tablets, augmented reality and learning analytics, to name just a few.

But it’s not just the young that have found their lives enriched by this programme – the elderly have also enjoyed the fruits of this technology in the form of an e-learning platform, community health services and touch panels for social interactions.

Another significant way e-learning has made itself felt in Hong Kong is by availing itself to law enforcement personnel. The island city’s Police College and its Cyber Security Technology and Crime Bureau (CSTCB) have adopted this facility and used it to great effect for interactive learning and hands-on training.

Today, ASTRI’s platform can support training on artificial intelligence, data analytics, blockchain and video analytics, enabling professional growth and making people more competitive in the job market.

Co Fung, Engineer, Linguistics, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics
Co became an ASTRIAN fresh after graduation. That was five years ago. Today she is responsible for project management, demonstrations and displays, as well as establishing databases and linguistics-related data analysis. Her projects include the creation of artificial intelligence chatbots to handle banks’ customer services.

Making the impossible possible

Story #3
“All things are difficult before they are easy”.

This saying crossed my mind as we met our client, whose parent company is one of the world’s largest banks. We could not afford any failures.

Our project was to develop an AI-powered chatbot that functions both in Cantonese and English, to be used for the bank’s customer service. From the outset, we faced many challenges.

In Hong Kong, the vast majority of people speak Cantonese, which is characterised by extremely complex grammar. When this was coupled with Kongish – the mixing of English and Cantonese – the difficulty of our research increased. It seemed impossible.

We had to consider new application methods and technologies as well as the use of data generation methods to overcome insufficient Cantonese testing data. We ended up having to trawl through the processing and information available from various banking products.

Then there was the matter of voice input as the chatbot we were creating did not just support text but audio too. So, based on studies we conducted and role-playing, we had to generate sentences based on various likely scenarios and record them being spoken. The process alone involved many Saturdays, late nights, and snacking.

Although our first prototype was poor, and our client was furious, we persevered. In the end, we practically became banking “experts” to get the job done. And we succeeded. Our product brought a big smile to our client, helping to answer 80 to 90% of banking inquiries and relieving the pressure on front-line staff.

We made the impossible possible. How about you?

Essere Li, Manager II, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics
Essere brings to ASTRI over 20 years of experience in IT, coding, e-commerce, and as a start-up entrepreneur. At ASTRI, Essere focuses on R&D in artificial intelligence, specialising in human-computer interactions and intelligent knowledge management systems. Essere aims to one day see the Greater Bay Area shine as a world-class innovation hub.

From Jurassic Park to ASTRI

Story #4

As a Michael Crichton fan, I was obsessed when the movie Jurassic Park came out back in 1993. However, instead of the sexier genetic-engineering focus of the movie, I found myself more impressed by how technology was able to affect people’s lives.

When I joined ASTRI in 2018, I worked on R&D for elderly care. I got to work with senior citizens, caretakers, doctors and researchers, among others. The greatest part of my work was being able to bring smiles to people’s faces.

I remember on the last day of the Gerontech and Innovation Expo that year; I met an old lady, a retired professional who lived alone and wore the effects of a long-term illness on her shoulders, who was curious about the work we did at ASTRI. Just before leaving, she patted my arm and told me to keep going. She said the work we did could one day help people like her.

That one moment made me realise my calling – to help people live better lives through technology. I might not be saving lives like an ER doctor or a firefighter, but I can work with fellow ASTRIANs to build innovative solutions to support those real-life superheroes, and ordinary people.

I realised that at ASTRI, it’s not just our jobs, but our responsibility.

Jerry Wang, Associate Principal Engineer, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics
Jerry oversees the smart city project management and development at ASTRI. He is the man responsible for establishing the Hong Kong smart water communication standard. In 2017, he led the team that won the Best Business Solution Bronze Award at the prestigious Hong Kong ICT Awards.

When burning incense is a blessing in more ways than one

Story #5

It was the start of 2020 and our project with the Fire Services Department (FSD) to develop toxic gas detection sensors was in full swing. By mid-January, most debugging work was complete and the system could send out test signals continuously for hours, transmitting and displaying test data on six gases – carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and hydrogen sulfide - as well as on volatile organic compounds.

But we soon hit a snag. We needed to conduct tests on the gases, but how? FSD had very strict rules on the purchase and storage of toxic gases, and it could take months to obtain the necessary approvals. With less than a week to the Lunar New Year celebrations, what were we to do?

But after lengthy discussions, we had a spark – we could burn incense sticks! That should release the gasses we needed. So we rushed off to purchase the incense, steel plates to burn the sticks on and a large plastic box that would not only help to reduce any air pollution created from the experiments but ensure that part of the incense sticks would not be fully burnt. A long data cable connected the laptop placed outside the box.

So armed with a bundle of incense sticks, we conducted our tests by the seaside. It worked. The concentration of the various gases had definitely increased by several degrees, compared to before when there were no incense sticks being burnt. The results of the experiments were consistent with previous analyses, and all gas sensors worked as designed.

Perhaps burning all that incense before the Lunar New Year was really a blessing in more ways than one. May the luck carry us forward for the rest of 2020.