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Hong Kong start-up set to offer navigation, signage translation app to mainland airports

China’s massive investment in airports is creating opportunities for companies like Hong Kong's Cherrypicks to provide services such as real-time translation and augmented-reality navigation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 December, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 December, 2017, 10:47am

China’s massive investment in airports is opening up opportunities for companies like Hong Kong’s Cherrypicks that offer navigation services to help travellers find their way around the cavernous hubs.

Founded in 2000 by Jason Chiu, Cherrypicks’ Starbeacon system will soon support augmented reality features at the Hong Kong International Airport, where users can point their smartphones at a sign and have the text translated into their preferred language.

The company will also deploy the service at Fuzhou international airport in China, and is in talks to introduce it in other Chinese airports.

Besides helping the lost and weary find their way around, the software also allows companies to track data such as passenger flow and customer shopping habits, including how much time they spend at a particular store or how long it takes to get from one place to another.

“The technology allows us to collect massive location data for more intelligent services features and location insights,” Chiu said in an interview at the Hong Kong Forum on Tuesday.

Cherrypicks was acquired last year by China’s NetDragon Websoft, an online gaming and mobile internet firm.

China has plans to build 136 airports by 2025 as part of investments to build the country’s infrastructure and cement its position as a major global aviation hub. Construction is under way for a US$12.9 billion international mega-airport in Beijing, which spans 47 square kilometres and is expected to be the world’s biggest when it opens in 2019.

Starbeacon can be deployed in any indoor space, including subway stations, shopping malls and office buildings

Globally, the indoor location market is expected to reach almost US$41 billion by 2022, with Asia-Pacific expected to be the fastest growing region over the next five years, according to a report published by B2B research firm MarketsandMarkets in October.

Other companies that provide indoor navigation services include Finland’s IndoorAtlas, which received US$10 million investment from Chinese search engine operator Baidu in September 2014.

Apart from airports, Starbeacon can be deployed in any indoor space, including subway stations, shopping malls and office buildings.

Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation has worked with Cherrypicks to deploy Starbeacon in shopping malls as well as within the Admiralty interchange station to send out station alerts and indoor navigation. The company is in talks with MTR to expand its coverage to other stations across the city, Chiu said.

Other places that use Cherrypicks’ indoor location tracking and data analytics include Lee Gardens and Taikoo Place in Hong Kong, according to the company.

This is not the company’s first foray into the mainland. The company failed in its first attempt to introduce a social media platform in China and lost HK$200 million (US$25.5 million) because the market was not yet mature.

Chiu said he hoped to spin off the company within the next three years and go for an initial public offering on the Hong Kong stock exchange.