CUHK Research Project Receives Over HK$15 million Venture Capital Funding After Commercialisation
The Vision-based Intelligent Forklift AGV System, a research project led by Prof. Liu Yun-hui, Professor, Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering, and Director, CUHK T Stone Robotics Institute, has recently received over HK$15 million in venture capital funding to market this AGV system in the Mainland.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) fosters innovation on campus and encourages students and researchers to contribute to society with the knowledge gained through their research. The commercialization of the Vision-based Intelligent Forklift AGV System is one of the most successful examples of this. The University’s Office of Research and Knowledge Transfer Services (ORKTS) provided a platform for and assistance to the project in obtaining the funding from the Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities (TSSSU) under the Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC).
Over the past three years, ORKTS has assisted hundreds of research projects to transfer into products and services for the benefit of the community.
Vision-based Intelligent Forklift AGV System
Prof. Liu and his team spent 5 years inventing the Vision-based Intelligent Forklift AGV System. This intelligent forklift AGV uses an industrial camera as the primary sensor. The robotic enables the forklift to navigate, control its motion and avoid obstacles independently, allowing the automation of transportation tasks in factories and warehouses.
Last year, there were more than 9.5 million manually operated forklift trucks and over 12 million drivers in the world. But a 100,000-square-foot warehouse requires 50 drivers for forklift trucks to shift goods, and labour costs are rising. The AGV system invested by Prof. Liu can replace manually operated forklift trucks without changing the current settings of the workplace. It provides an innovative and cost-effective solution to automation in manufacturing and service industries, thereby increasing the overall productivity. The funding source of this technology start-up was the Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities (TSSSU) under the Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC).
A company was established in 2015 and this start-up has already received over HK$15 million in venture capital funding. The company is now in discussion with two Fortune 500 companies and an industry leader in the health care sector in the Mainland about the purchase of the AGV system.
Prof Liu said, “I am glad that our company is one of the most successful cases illustrating the University’s efforts in commercializing its research projects. The company grows rapidly with the assistance of the University. The Centre for Entrepreneurship and the ORKTS provide an excellent platform for students and teachers to set-up startups. ORKTS has assisted us in applying to the TSSSU of the ITC and provided valuable advice to us. In addition, the Pi Centre offers working space and mentoring services to students and teachers who are starting companies to commercialize their research projects. We would like to express our gratitude to CUHK, ITC and Hong Kong Science Park for their support”.
Entrepreneurial spirit on Campus
Resources allocation and a people network, in addition to funding, are crucial to the sustainability of start-up companies. ORKTS nurtures start-ups formed by the University’s professors and students. The support offered includes fund application, contracts and licensing agreements, business consultancy and identification of funding sources. For Prof Liu’s start-up, ORKTS provided advice on the team structure, strategic planning, funding and other aspects. When a start-up has been made, ORKTS will identify promotional opportunities for it, channels for which include CUHK Entrepreneur Day as well as Innovation and Technology exhibitions.
Prof. Walter Ho, Director, ORKTS, CUHK said, “Most of the start-ups encounter a lot of difficulties at the early stages of their formation . It is encouraging to see that Prof Liu’s start-up has already attracted venture capitalists’ attention in its early stage. I hope that this successful case can encourage other members of the University to transfer their knowledge gained from their research for the benefit of the community.”
Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities
The Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC) has set up a new Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities (TSSSU) under the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), providing an annual funding of HK$24 million to six local universities, initially for three years, to encourage their students and professors to start technology businesses and commercialise their R&D results. No limit has been set on the number of technology start-ups to be funded under each university. However, each university will be subject to an annual funding ceiling of HK$4 million, and each technology start-up will be funded for not more than three years with a maximum annual funding of HK$1.2 million.