profile
Florence Chan

MSc (EVNG)

Co-Founder & CEO
AI Guided

profile
Florence Chan

MSc (EVNG)

Co-Founder & CEO
AI Guided

An AI visionary

A great idea can come from the most unlikely place. For Florence Chan, Co-Founder and CEO of AI Guided, seeing a group of visually impaired people walking on the subway provided just the impetus she needed to get going. Already an expert in AI, Florence set herself the challenging task of using the technology to help those with difficulty in seeing.

“I had a newborn baby and was studying for my Ph.D., so I was busy. But I decided this was a mission I simply had to complete,” Florence says. AI Guided was founded in 2020 with Ph.D. schoolmate Steve Kong, beginning an odyssey of inspiration. “The first thing we did was develop GUIDi, an AI device that utilizes haptic-reflex actuation and environmental visualization. It looks like a belt and can detect objects within a 5-meter range and alert the wearer to their presence,” Florence says.

This is a huge change from visually impaired people using a white cane or guide dog, as the smart belt can be worn around the waist, freeing up the hands for other tasks, such as holding an umbrella or carrying shopping bags. While training for a guide dog can take up to 3 months, it takes only 20 minutes for a person to learn how to use the belt.  

A path not always in clear sight

While her idea was solid, Florence had limited knowledge of running a business, turning to help at the Science Park Incubation Programme and HKAI Lab Accelerator Programme. “I’m an engineer, so luckily I met industry experts, strategic partners, and investors who provided valuable advice and support,” says Florence. “Of course, The Entrepreneur Centre at HKUST was essential for advice on funding opportunities,” she adds.

GUIDI guides team to victory

The result has been a deluge of awards. With their GUIDi device, AI Guided won a silver medal in the Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions 2022, and the Champion of the Hong Kong Social Enterprise Challenge 2023, among other accolades. “We have 20 employees, so we are not exactly huge – but we make up with it by independent problem-solvers with a can-do spirit, who take on challenges and find creative solutions,” Florence says.

The team is driven by a mission for social good, but even then, there are plenty of competitors, especially those in China who are quick learners and reproduce products at a more competitive price point. “We are going international and have also been working with the MTR on a trial project to assist the visually impaired people during transfers. In Germany, we will be used in theaters and museums,” Florence says.

How can current students see similar success? “Remember to carry out comprehensive market research and identify your niche. If done well, you will get there!”