Entrepreneur Spotlight: Andre Cheung

Mitigating Wildfire Outbreaks with AI

September 23, 2023

Entrepreneur Spotlight: Andre Cheung

Mitigating Wildfire Outbreaks with AI

September 23, 2023

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In a world facing growing challenges of climate change and increasing wildfire outbreaks, Andre Cheung, the Founder and CEO of RoboticsCats is on a mission to make a difference through AI detection mitigating wildfire risks and damages.

RoboticsCats is disrupting the traditional approach to wildfire detection with their LookOut Wildfire Detection SaaS. This smart system accurately detects early-stage wildfire outbreaks.  As a Software-as-a-Service, LookOut is designed to be hardware-agnostic and it works with standard video surveillance cameras. LookOut can detect early-stage forest fire at 15km distance within the first 15 minutes of ignition. With better camera optics and locations, LookOut can early detect wildfires at further distance.

"We have developed LookOut to address the challenges of traditional wildfire detection systems. Accurate, automatic notification, easy-to-use, quick-to-deploy, flexible and affordable.  It takes years for government agencies to discuss with technology providers, to apply pilot project budgets to evaluate different technologies, to issue tenders and invite bids if we’re lucky there are no personnel changes at the government agencies, to evaluate bids and award contracts, to deploy solutions and train government users to use the systems. All these traditional ways of old school practices are too slow to combat climate changes. We are having wildfire disasters in Europe right now. We had wildfire disasters in Europe in 2022. In 2021. In 2020. In 2019… It is very frustrating to see the same problem repeat itself every year. We need a systemic change.  Our AI-powered SaaS solution allows for fast deployment and easy scaling, making it accessible to a wide range of organizations. All you need is an internet-connected security camera which you can purchase at Amazon today and receive it tomorrow." says Andre.

By combining visual video cameras and machine vision, their technologies ensure precise fire detection and location determination, even in challenging environments such as dark, light-polluted, hazy, windy, and hilly areas. It also sends automatic alerts to users via email and mobile app. By seamlessly integrating AI wildfire detection into standard video surveillance cameras worldwide, RoboticsCats empowers individuals and businesses to protect lives, property, and nature from the devastating impacts of wildfires. Customers are now using LookOut to protect national parks, plantations, energy infrastructure, properties and homes in Asia, Europe, LATAM and the US.

Digging a little deeper into the technology

To further enhance early wildfire detection, RoboticsCats has embraced machine learning technology. Their next-generation AI wildfire  detection system utilizes YOLOv5 (You Only Look Once), renowned for its speed and accuracy in ML-based detections. YOLOv5's probabilistic approach considers the global context of the image, effectively reducing false-positive cases, including the detection of chimney smoke.

Harnessing the power of Machine Learning through supervised-learning processes, RoboticsCats leveraged vast amounts of data, including hundreds of thousands of HD images of early-stage wildfire blaze and smoke. With the support of their global customer base, they collected over half a million early-stage forest fire images, empowering their AI system to operate seamlessly across diverse environments and continents. Customer collaboration played a pivotal role in their development, as beta testing demonstrated impressive results, with the AI wildfire  detection outperforming rule-based computer vision methods and showcasing significant improvement.

Check out this video to see how it works:

With wildfires becoming more frequent and severe, Andre saw the urgent need to leverage technology for a greater purpose. "Climate change and the increasing frequency of wildfires motivated us to use AI to protect people and nature," he explains.

How it all started

Andre's journey as an entrepreneur began when he met his talented team members five years ago through an investor. Andre shares: “They (my team) had a great engineering idea to use AI to detect wildfire outbreaks. I was keen to invest my career in the AI sector. With climate change there are more and bigger wildfires, the current way of living and rate of carbon emission reduction cannot mitigate the climate and biodiversity challenges in the world. Technology can help. We found it was a very meaningful way to use technology to protect people and nature”. 

With the support of their investor, they founded RoboticsCats to build the tech with the aim of reducing wildfires.

Pivoting in the early stage

We love to learn and understand what challenges entrepreneurs go through from the initial idea stage to launching their company. For Andre and RoboticsCat it was the impact of the Covid pandemic that was a battle and they had to pivot to adapt to the current market conditions. 

Andre candidly shared: “We had the COVID pandemic outbreak 4 months after we founded our startup. Our original idea was to develop our own purpose-built hardware camera with built-in AI detection. However the pandemic disrupted everything. We could not build our hardware with the global supply chain problem. We could not bring our cameras to customers with a travel ban. The world seemed to have stopped. No, the world was breaking up and the people were suffering! We had to do something to help. We had to pivot! We had a crazy idea in 2020: to build a cloud-based AI wildfire detection which can work with internet-connected video surveillance cameras, no matter where they are. It was a brand new idea. And we made it! And we turn RoboticsCats from a hardware-centric vendor to a hardware-agnostic SaaS provider!

However being an entrepreneur means that by nature you have to be a problem solver. A new day brings a new challenge. Reaching customers globally and securing the right talent are significant challenges for RoboticsCats, 

“Most of our customers are outside of Hong Kong. With or without COVID, it is challenging to develop overseas markets. It costs a lot of money, time, and people connections. It is very difficult to hire engineers in Hong Kong in recent years. Companies are competing with talents. We as a startup don’t have the financial resources to get the manpower resources we need”. 

A key action point in tackling those challenges is building partnerships. Participating in numerous global startup competitions and accelerator programs have elevated their visibility and expanded their customer base. 

“We learned and improved a lot in our journeys. The best thing to me is we developed many win-win partnerships with our suppliers (AXIS Communications, AWS and Google Cloud), research institutes (CITRIS, University of Edinburgh, WWF, Hong Kong Bird Watching Society), startup communities (Santa Cruz Works, Leading Cities, Startup Wise Guy, Global Incubator Network, EIE, and MassChallenge), and our channel partners around the world.

We are the extended teams of each other. We leverage each party’s strength and uniqueness to do more and move forward together faster. Everyone at RoboticsCats needs to work hard. But we never walk alone”.

A Game-Changing Act of Kindness

One of the craziest and most rewarding decisions Andre made was to assist a non-profit animal center in Hong Kong in protecting their cats and dogs from wildfire risks. Located near a high wildfire risk area, the center faced the threat of wildfires each year and almost burned down in October 2020. 

180 cats and dogs from the Big Tree Animal Center were evacuated during a wildfire in the midnight of 25-October-2020. Source: RoboticsCats


RoboticsCats stepped in to tailor their SaaS MVP to meet the unique needs of the animal center, ensuring an easy-to-use and affordable solution for wildfire detection. “We were developing our SaaS MVP (minimum viable product) in late 2020 / early 2021. We added the requirement to meet the needs of the animal center. They needed a wildfire detection solution to protect animal lives. It is a humble need that we want to meet. It was the customer-centric design mindset that drove us to build the world’s first AI wildfire detection service. If BigTree Animal Center can use it. I can use it. You can use it. Anyone who needs it and can use it. Wildfire, or climate change, is not a government problem. Everyone needs its tools to combat wildfire. And we are building the tools to help.”

Source: RoboticsCats setting up

Check out the use case here: https://roboticscats.com/2021/03/09/big-tree-protects-cats-and-dogs-by-5g-ai/

Words of Wisdom

We asked Andre what piece of advice he would give to a fellow entrepreneur who is just starting to launch his/her venture, he summed it up into three areas:

  1. Take care of your health, both physically and mentally. Startups make new things, and by definition most of the new things will not work. An entrepreneur needs a strong mind and body to accept failure, learn from it, and move on.
  2. Fail fast. Building a startup is a risky journey. Fail fast, minimize cost and time in failure, is the best way to de-risk the business.
  3. Customer-centric development process. Listen to the target customers, observe their behavior, learn and build more successfully.  

And as a last note, Andre highly recommends the book “Lean Startup” and “Creative Confidence”

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