China’s Yitu Technology wants to ‘raise AI capabilities’ in Singapore, Southeast Asia

2018-01-28 23:07:09

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 SINGAPORE: Beyond seeking to do business, Yitu Technology is here to “raise the artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities” in Singapore, and subsequently in the wider Southeast Asia region, said Mr Lance Wang, the company’s general manager of Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Macau.

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia on Monday (Jan 22), ahead of the official opening of Yitu's office in Singapore on Tuesday, Mr Wang said the company was keen to ride on the local government’s push towards AI and expand its global footprint.

Yitu is an AI pioneer in areas such as facial recognition and its new base is its first outside of China.

“We chose Singapore, and Southeast Asia, as our first base as it’s closer in terms of location, as well as in cultural similarities,” explained Mr Wang, who moved from Shanghai to helm the office here. 

The new office is meant to serve as a regional headquarters for the region and will include functions such as sales, marketing and finance, among others, Mr Wang said. It has 20 employees here, but will hire more, depending on market demand, he added. 


Mr Wang said that there are three specific areas Yitu is looking to introduce its products to: Public sector, financial services and healthcare.

“Imagine you’re out and have forgotten to bring your wallet,” he said, illustrating a possible use case for financial institutions here. “You could go to an automated teller machine (ATM) with our facial recognition software to authenticate, and withdraw money.”

This application has been deployed by China Merchants Bank and the Agricultural Bank of China, whose customers are able to make withdrawals without needing a card, the company said.


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Mr Wang said that its facial recognition software could also be used at the airport to track travellers and identify security risks such as terrorists even before they enter one’s country.

Mr Scott Ong, technical director for Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Macau at Yitu, also shared during a demo that its facial recognition software is able to track, in real time, people’s movements within a space. 

If applied in a retail setting, and using aggregated and anonymised data, shop owners would be able to discern people’s browsing patterns and, in turn, find out if their products are displayed optimally, he explained.

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Last May, the National Research Foundation announced that it will be investing up to S$150 million into a new national programme called AI.SG, which will see locally-based research institutes partner AI start-ups and companies developing products in this field.

Mr Wang said the company is currently in discussions with the Economic Development Board on the opening of a research and development hub here. This, he added, is a separate entity from the new office and is expected to be established by the end of the year.

In the pipeline are possible partnerships with local varsities such as the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, such that their researchers and scientists will be trained by core members of Yitu’s team in areas such as deep learning, Mr Wang said.