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SUNY Korea Students’ Startup Introduces Smart Inventory SystemSUNY Koreaㅣ2020-06-23 10:40
What do global companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have in common? These companies were founded by young entrepreneurs in their 20s and have grown into global businesses. SUNY Korea’s undergraduate student research team, Zero Class Lab, recently won a 50,000 USD startup fund for the ‘Smart Inventory System,’ a project presented at a startup contest organized by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups (MSS) in Korea. We spoke with Dongyeop Lee, a senior in Computer Science and CEO of Zero Class Lab, about his ambition for the startup.
Q1. Please introduce your team.
Dongyeop: Our team is called ‘Zero Class Lab’. The term, first class, refers to providing the best or highest value to a specific group, whereas Zero Class signifies the importance of providing a higher level of service to everyone. I have three other team members from the department of Computer Science: Youngho Kim (Junior), Junhyung Park (Freshman), and Professor Jihoon Ryoo.
Q2. What motivated you to start?
Prof. Ryoo: One day, I watched a TV program talking about a person who committed suicide. He killed himself because of inefficient inventory management, which led to the cancellation of large contracts for manufacture and supply. The current inventory system for humans is inaccurate, inefficient, and risky. I have received a research project from the Small and Medium Business Administration (SMBA) in Korea to make inventory management systems more accurate and transparent through digitalization. When inventory management is digitalized, the pattern of goods being emptied, consumed, and filled becomes big data, which enables companies to establish a system. Beginning with the idea of using visual tags, I started developing algorithms for smart inventory systems using AI, robotics, and computer vision.
Dongyeop: Prof. Ryoo recruited an undergraduate research team in December 2019, and we worked together to develop a smart inventory system. Afterwards, we proposed our research concerning the Smart Factory in a K-Startup contest that is organized by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups (MSS) and won a 50,000 USD startup fund. With this fund, we were able to purchase necessary materials and computers to continue research and develop our product.
Q3. What is your product and what kind of technology is used?
Prof. Ryoo: Our business item is an inventory management robot utilizing computer vision and AI technology. This robot is under development to enable inexpensive and efficient inventory management of a space the size of a football field. The robot uses computer vision technology to take photos of a tag on material boxes as it passes by and keeps track of every item in stock. It also finds empty stock by examining inventory data based on the photos taken.
Dongyeop: This smart inventory system allows automated management to develop, manufacture, and produce goods using technologies such as robotics, computer vision, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI).
Q4. Which field of industry would you apply it to?
Dongyeop: It will be introduced primarily within the manufacturing industry, in fields such as construction, shipbuilding, distribution. Other fields such as healthcare, fashion, and food, which also require inventory management, may also apply our service. Finally, I hope our research can contribute to the fields of AI, robotics, machine learning, and computer vision.
Q5. How could it be possible for undergraduate students to develop and build an innovative startup?
Youngho: I heard my friends from other universities usually wait more than three hours to see the professor personally. But here at SUNY Korea, meetings with professors are as simple as knocking on the door. I was able to join the research team as an undergraduate student with my wholehearted passion for the research topics. Anyone here can participate in research. SUNY Korea provides an environment to make close relationships with professors and other students, which may result in new opportunities for research.
Dongyeop: Research opportunity is open to anyone at SUNY Korea. Besides, the deep knowledge and theory learned in high-quality courses are building solid foundation to conduct research. For me, Zero Class Lab is the second startup.
Prof. Ryoo: I recruit research team members regardless of their grades. Instead, I look at their passion. I hope that students do not judge themselves, which lowers their potential for success. My research teams have been studying with the purpose of contributing to the world while getting small stipends during vacation. I personally want to establish new research activities at SUNY Korea and encourage students to study more deeply in graduate programs. In graduate school, you can experience the work of a researcher in advance, which includes the development of startups, patents, and research papers. In fact, most graduates of America’s top universities want to start a business. However, since there is no such culture in Korea, I hope that Zero Class Lab will succeed as the first case and create a virtuous cycle of 'education-research-startup'.
Q6. What is your future plan?
Dongyeop: Zero Class Lab is a company using software technology to increase the efficiency of life and solve global issues. Our goal is to complete the first product prototype and approve its functionality. Patents are going to be made. Following this, we will do business by providing a product that may be sold to the logistics and distribution industry. The market value of the smart inventory system is estimated at 80 million dollars in Korea and 1.2 billion dollars overseas. We will work harder to succeed in this area of industry. Meanwhile, I can research the smart inventory system more extensively while studying a master's degree for one year in accordance with the 5-year accelerated program at SUNY Korea. In the future, I want to study computer vision in more detail, examining such subjects as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality.
Youngho: I am a software engineer at Zero Class Lab. I mainly study computer vision related to camera recognition. It's certainly not easy to complete my courses, work, research, and business, but I’m still on this team because I love what I’m doing in the Zero Class Lab and computer science department. After graduation, I plan to study in a master's program or continue this business.
Prof. Ryoo: It is my role to help students grow. Currently, I have six funded research projects under the name of AI2S. In my lab, we bridge the AI and computer systems, then ultimately contribute to the human being. From this lab, Zero Class Lab was born. My goal is to create a more mature research lab and support technology research that is useful in real life.
Q7. What is the strength of the Department of Computer Science at SUNY Korea?
Youngho: The quality of courses is very high. My friends who are studying computer science or computer engineering from other universities say they do not learn in such depth. Of course, they understand machine learning and computer algorithms, but SUNY Korea students learn starting from the fundamentals. Sometimes you may want a short path but understanding the fundamentals will help you quickly identify many different problems.
Joonhyeong: I entered SUNY Korea because it is an American university in Korea. When I first attended classes, it was difficult to study computer science in-depth. The more I took the classes, the easier it was to learn and apply my knowledge to novel projects like those conducted by my research team. I think this is a unique education provided at SUNY Korea which cannot be found in other universities.
Q8. Do you have any message for future students who want to study Computer Science?
Dongyeop: Self-directed learning is most important whenever you do anything. My friends say they mastered Googling (Google Search) because they have looked for so much information on the Internet. It is true that experiential learning is crucial. I think it is important to have this attitude first before jumping into Computer Science and blindly following the fourth industrial revolution.
Youngho: Coding is very popular among parents these days. Just before coming to college, I first learned coding. I was interested in hacking, so I installed and tried a hacking program myself. Currently, students are under pressure from parents to follow trends associated with the fourth Industrial Revolution. While doing this, I have seen many students who give up or transfer out of Computer Science to other majors. If you want to study computer science, it is essential to have a purpose.
SUNY Korea is an American university that provides education under relatively liberal conditions. Because there is no boundary between undergraduate and graduate students, there are many opportunities for undergraduate students to study with excellent faculty members. Research is not only in the laboratory, but it leads to entrepreneurship in local and global industries. SUNY Korea provides the best AI education in the Asian-Pacific region for the fields of STEAM.