The Seven-year ‘Roller Coaster Ride’ Behind the AI-powered App that Takes Body Measurements for Online Tailors
七年研發AI技術 拍照取人體呎寸 便利網購訂製行業
The only way to overcome the fear of riding roller coasters is to keep riding them! Face up to pressure and anxiety with the right attitude and concentrate on solving the problem instead of burying yourself in worries.
Andrew ZHU 朱帥印
Founder, Shenzhen TOZI Technology Company Limited
Andrew Zhu Shuaiyin, a Sichuan native, took us to the House of Innovation and began to ably demonstrate on a tablet the result of a seven-year research with his team. Incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into the fashion universe, Andrew’s mobile app takes precise body measurements of the user by just taking a few photos. Online retailers and tailors are set to benefit from the app’s data collecting power.
In the past years, Andrew has been immersed in the studio day and night to tackle the uncertainties in marketing the product and obstacles scattered along the path of entrepreneurship. But he never has a moment of doubt. ‘I’m very confident as the product has been proven theoretically feasible, and the more problems I encounter the more I want to work it out. Overtime work is my pastime.’
Andrew, 33, the Bachelor’s degree holder in computer engineering from Mainland China came to Hong Kong in 2010 to pursue a Master study. At first glance, his choice of the Institute of Textile and Clothing (ITC) at PolyU may look like a misfit. ‘On open day, I talked to ITC’s professors and found that they were interested in researching the AI technology. So, I decided to join.’ Andrew added that in order to make AI technology available to everyone, the direction of AI research could no longer stay at the academic level. It must be tied up with the practical application in daily life.
工大 學紡織及服裝學系（ITC），「那時候開放日跟ITC 的教授傾談，發現他們有興趣研究人工智能，所以就決定加入了。」Andrew補充，人工智能科技的研究方向不能再停留於學術層面，而是要與日常生活結合，才能令技術「落地」。
Trial and Error Pays Off
Andrew and his team, altogether four people, kick-started an in-depth study in hope of coming up with an AI solution for the industry operators to solve the problem of overstocking. This pursuit took them seven full years. ‘The theory has been proven for its feasibility, so I’m never too worried. But when it comes to practical operation, we have to go through relentless trials and errors.’ For example, the original image recognition feature only worked on photos with users wearing tights in front of plain backgrounds, which obviously would work against the behaviour and habits of consumers. And these were just the tip of an iceberg in the R&D process. Andrew said the team spent about four years optimising the application, ‘In addition to problem solving, we have incorporated new ideas to make it easier to use.’
By 2015, when smartphones became a necessity and the technology was ripe to go live, Andrew and his team officially launched the product in the market, allowing consumers to take their own measurements for online shopping. They have since successfully cooperated with different apparel powerhouses and taken the technology to the international market. ‘A Japanese brand offering tailor-made clothing had seen high staff recruitment and training costs. Our technology has effectively reduced their expenses,’ added Andrew.
Seven years of hard work has paid off. ‘There is still a long way to go,’ Andrew said with a modest smile. He explained that they still have to continuously improve on the product quality, as well as data security and stability issues. ‘This is our first product and we will expand our product range. Gym customers, for instance, may want to track their own data. There are still many potential products to develop.’
Mobile app ‘YIHU’ takes precise body measurements of the user by just taking a few photos.
Getting Used to Roller Coaster Rides
When it comes to the company's future developments, Andrew was eager to share his vision on the many possibilities. He admitted, however, the company had struggled with problems in the industry chain during the initial stage. ‘In the case of tailor-made clothing, consumers might not be able to accept such change. As for the supply chain, when tailor-made service becomes available online, the sudden influx of orders might create a lot of troubles if order fulfilment depends only on tailors.’ Andrew pointed out the team have spent a lot of time communicating with clients to build confidence and carry on the partnership. Since its establishment in 2017, the company has received several angel investments of approximately HK$20 million in addition to the HK$1.2million funding support from PolyU , which is a testament to the confidence of the investors in the prospect of the company.
After graduating with a PhD in 2017, Andrew had not settled for a stable job and life of a typical office worker. He instead embarked on the strenuous path of entrepreneurship that felt like a roller coaster ride. ‘I believe all entrepreneurs share the same feeling - sometimes you are extremely confident, but sometimes you feel extremely abased.’ The mood swings have taught Andrew to have better control of his emotions and deal with various crises as if it were just another day. ‘The only way to overcome the fear of riding roller coasters is to keep riding them! Face up to pressure and anxiety with the right attitude and concentrate on solving the problem instead of burying yourself in worries,’ he said.
Embrace the Boundless World
Starting from a four-member R&D team, the firm has grown into a team of 18 members with Andrew holding a managerial role. Unlike product development, corporate management requires a whole different kind of expertise. Andrew, inexperienced for the new role, had to learn about the relevant theories from books and keep evaluating his decisions by listening to different opinions, as such rectifying his mistakes right away. ‘I’ve been refining my management skills all the time – I used to look into even the tiniest matter when there were new members joining the company, but now I’m trusting the team and hands-off most of the time. I think that’s a stage that every manager has to go through.’
From the academic research, application of the theory for practical use to product launch, Andrew said the adventure with his team echoes with the classic Cantopop song Under a Vast Sky (《海闊天空》). ‘This journey has broadened my own universe. My personality has evolved as the company develops. My horizons are getting wider. As we received help, I have discovered many beautiful people and things. The more you explore in the field, the more you see and learn from this boundless world, just like the song Under a Vast Sky,’ he said.