NEUON AI’s RoadPlus: A winning idea

The illustration shows the road surface inspection where a pothole is being detected and its GPS location being record by the RoadPlus app.

As time changes for the better, technology steadily improves to make our lives better. At the most recent MyHackathon, NEUON AI’s project — ‘RoadFirst’ — emerged as the winner under the ‘Bina Negara’ theme for its grand solution in helping road maintenance.

Better transparency and traceability

In the 21st century, technology becomes a fast-paced trend as we tend to rely on it more and more everyday. With the emergence of new technologies, NEUON AI chief executive officer Dr Chai Kok Chin believes that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is essential to simplify daily tasks and to provide a quality life.

“From the digital world, we are now entering into the big data world. We understand that lots of data from various sources such as images and videos from social media, surveillance system, and others are needed to be processed every day,” he said.

As such, Chai explained that it is not an easy task if humans were to process the data manually. “Just like the visual inspection on the road surface, it needs to process more than millions of data daily and hence it is extremely challenging to rely on human operators.”

Co-founders of NEUON AI. From left: Chief Finance Officer Marcus Chai, Chief Technology Officer Chang Yang Loong and Chief Executive Officer Dr.Chai Kai Cheng.

Hence, Chai said leveraging the AI technology can help perform a repetitive task better, more efficient and consistent. “We have proven that AI works in surveillance, manufacturing, agriculture as well as asset management.”

Asked if technology can take over human jobs one day, Chai disagrees, “We can never replace human creativity. AI can only help us with repetitive tasks. In fact, it will increase our life quality as we have more time to work on creative tasks.”

The ‘Bina Negara’ MyHackathon Winner

The virtual award giving ceremony where NEUON AI won RM 250,000 in the Marathon category of the recently held MyHackathon under the Bina Negara theme. The team also won additional funds from SEDC.

Recently, Chai and his team of four participated in MyHackathon, organised by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI). The competition aims to look for new and innovative ideas, solutions, platforms and scientific discoveries that will benefit Malaysians.

As the only Sarawak company to win under the ‘Bina Negara’-themed Marathon category, NEUON AI Sdn Bhd received an additional grant from the Sarawak Digital Economy Corporation (SDEC) apart from their Conditional Grant of RM250,000 for Pilot Deployment of their winning solution by Cradle Funds Sdn Bhd.

The team consisted five key members — NEUON AI chairman Kushairi Zaidel; NEUON chief scientist Professor Dr Lim Chee Peng; NEUON chief financial officer Marcus Chai Koh Kiong; NEUON chief technology officer Chang Yang Loong and Chai himself.

RoadPlus — addressing the challenges

Inspired by issues of road damages in the state, Chai revealed that it was due to the fact that while road maintenance companies heavily invested on high-tech and expensive equipment, existing road damage inspection methods still rely on human operators to record and subsequently report the damages to the technical team to carry out the required maintenance and repair.

“To us, this manual inspection process is tedious, slow and costly as everything is done manually with two operators — one driver and one recorder — for all the inspection tasks.” Chai also revealed that NEUON AI had discussed the problem statements and workflows with the Department of Work (JKR Sarawak Branch) and CMS Roads Sdn Bhd (CMS Roads).

Inspired to overcome the issue, NEUON AI wanted to build an AI to overcome the challenges.

“We found that road inspection is done manually and by road maintenance companies only.

Apart from that, we noticed that the work requires expensive equipment and facilities.

View of RoadPlus app During Road Surface Inspection.

“Taking into account these issues, we proposed RoadPlus Infrastructure to disrupt the current status quo in road maintenance by addressing both challenges.”

Sharing on the simplicity and affordability, Chai said that with the AI, the initiative of road maintenance can now be done by the general public using RoadPlus, and now it is not just the responsibility of road maintenance companies. “Through a citizen science approach, we believe RoadPlus will lead to road digitisation with better transparency and traceability,” he added.

Furthermore, Chai said the technology provided by his company can accelerate the data collection process for a wide coverage of road networks, especially roads at the countryside and the outskirts.

With NEUON AI’s speciality in AI and computer vision technology, RoadPlus became the fourth AI core that the company had developed to detect road damages and to automatically digitised with information such as date, time and Global Positioning System (GPS) location, accurately recorded in the database to be displayed on the RoadPlus cloud-based platform.

In doing so, Chai, a PhD holder in Electronics and Computer, explained the benefits on both the government and related stakeholders, “They will see reduced cost in their inspection and monitoring expenses which can be transferred to incentives or extra revenue sources for the public when they make reports.”

RoadPlus platform and app.

How does it work?

With RoadPlus’ milestone demonstration of the prototype in a real environment, Chai shared that for their pilot deployment, NEUON AI had successfully digitised 300 kilometres of the road network in Kuching with its coverage to be expanded soon.

Aiming to digitise the whole of Malaysia in 2021, Chai revealed two methods that users can report on road damages via RoadPlus. “For manual reporting, users can capture images with text or video with audio. For automated reporting, the users are only required to mount their mobile phones on the windshield of a car and start recording.”

“In both reporting modes, additional information such as the date, time, and location of the roads will be automatically attached before the information is sent to the cloud platform,” Chai explained.

One of the sharing event by NEUON AI CEO, Dr. Chai on Advancing Industry 4.0 with AI at Big Data Lab, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UITM).

Meanwhile, Chai disclosed that clients, namely the government or any related stakeholders, can monitor and manage the road network digitally via the RoadPlus platform. “For example, the Kuching North City Council will be able to preview all relevant reports under their territory, which will be sent automatically through RoadPlus.”

Chai foresees a bright future for Malaysia, should NEUON AI’s fourth AI is extended to other industry. “We are looking forward with University Malaya on the partnership of using the AI in Healthcare.”

Priding themselves with three prior AIs (Business technology with facial recognition technology; Agriculture with plant species and diseases recognition or tree counting technology; Manufacturing with objection inspection technology), Chai shared that in over two years the company had invested on high computational power machine for data processing, building research collaboration with research institutes, and also training their team, particularly on deep learning.

The company had also won the AI Computer Vision hosted by France two consecutive years. The competition saw NEUON AI emerged as champion in 2019 and first runner-up in 2020.

One of the sharing event by NEUON AI CEO, Dr. Chai on Advancing Industry 4.0 with AI at Big Data Lab, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UITM).