The startup, Fano Labs, provides AI concierge services for the public sector and service industry that can give a much better user experience
Imagine you are meeting a friend for dinner at a restaurant in a mall and you are running late. You don't know the restaurant's exact location but the mall's interactive service (regarded by some as a step backwards in efficiency) has a queue next to it and people are taking their time. The frustration mounts as the clock ticks away.
This onestop AI concierge service is the brainchild of Fano Labs, an artificial intelligence (AI) startup headed by a recent engineering PhD graduate from HKU, Dr Miles Wen, and his former PhD advisor, Professor Victor Li, Chair Professor of Information Engineering at HKU. The team had been working on AI technology for several years when a chance encounter with the manager of a shopping mall made them realise the potential to apply their research to a concierge service.
"Some mall operators told us that they had been looking for solutions to improve customer services without having to hire more customer service representatives. We realised that we had the technology that could address this need," Dr Wen said.
"Our focus is on providing AI concierge services for the public sector and service industry that can give a much better user experience. Shopping malls and large institutions with a lot of contact with the public don't necessarily have enough customer servers to meet demand. We can serve millions of customers at the same time."
The technology works using both text and speech, in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. The beauty of it is that it does not require customers to download anything – they can access via a client's website, Facebook page, WeChat or WhatsApp accounts and other social media. All the client has to do is add an option that takes users straight to the AI concierge service.
Fano Labs also provides a data analytics service to help clients understand their visitors better and conduct targeted marketing.
Founded in 2015 by Professor Li and Dr Wen, the company received TSSSU@HKU (Technology Startup Support Scheme for Universities) funding in 2015 and again this year, and is also supported by the IncuTech program of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation.
"The important thing of the TSSSU funding is that it has given us the time and opportunity to test things, make mistakes and correct them. Being able to do a lot of trial and error is as important in running a business as in conducting scientific research. We have also received a lot of mentorship support through HKU.
"The time for AI technologies is coming. We are working hard to create real values to our community using our technologies," Dr Wen said.