Jung Bae Kim, Alchera Inc. Co-founder and CEO Interviewed by Chosun Ilbo
DECEMBER 24, 2019 — Jung Bae Kim, co-founder, and CEO of Alchera Inc. was interviewed by Chosun Ilbo newspaper, a major publication in South Korea. The interview details Alchera’s face recognition technology and its upcoming application to new passport issuance with the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as Shinhan Bank’s Face Pay, Korea’s first face recognition-based payment system and the third in the world.
Face recognition technology startup Alchera Inc. provides the main technology to SNOW Camera app. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also apply face recognition technology for passport issuance by next year.
“Starting next year, payment through face recognition using a smartphone camera, ‘Face Pay’, will be commercialized.” – Jung Bae Kim
We met Jung Bae Kim, CEO of Alchera on December 20th at Pangyo Wooam building. He mentioned, “Alchera has been selected as a preferred bidder for passport issuance business from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in October. Our technology will be applied to the passport issuance process by next year.” He also said, “Shinhan’s Face Pay system, a payment method using face recognition technology which doesn’t require a credit card, will also be commercialized by next year.”
Alchera is an AI company focusing on image and video recognition technology, founded in June 2016, by CEO Jung Bae Kim and CTO Young Hwang who were computer vision researchers at Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology. SNOW Camera, an app using AR technology that is popular among young people around Asia, is also using the technology from Alchera. Alchera has also developed wildfire detection technology using Visual Anomaly Detection Technology in addition to face recognition immigration systems at Incheon International Airport and Face Pay.
Alchera has raised 12 billion Korean Won (roughly 10.5 million USD) in funding from various companies including Naver and Smilegate in the 3 years after their foundation. Big corporates including Samsung Electronics, LG CNS, SK Telecom, KT, LG U+ are their clients. Starting with just 5 members, Alchera now has a team of 52 with 4 billion Korean Won in sales in 2019 (roughly 3.5 million USD), or growth of 50 times their first sales in 2016. They were selected as the Top Venture Company by the Korean Venture Business Association. On the global side, Alchera was selected for Plug and Play Tech Center’s Silicon Valley and Houston accelerators.
While a researcher at Samsung Electronics, Jung Bae Kim developed the face recognition technology for the Galaxy 8 in 2017, the very first case for applying face recognition systems on a smartphone. Medical Fusion Imaging technology, combining ultrasonic wave video with MRI data into one image set, is another one of Jung Bae’s achievements at Samsung.
On starting his own company, Jung Bae said, “I wanted my technology to be applied to more diverse fields, rather than just being limited to one single company. I thought a startup would be a better place for me to continue my research and this led to founding a company myself.”
― Why did you leave Samsung Electronics?
“I joined Samsung Electronics as a senior researcher in 2003, after getting my Ph.D at KAIST. I continued my research on computer vision for 13 years until 2016 and started to think about starting my own business. I wanted to choose the field for my technology to be used on my own. I wanted these technologies to impact the overall society, rather than being limited to one single company.
In early 2010, I tried founding a company with Young Kyoo Hwang, the co-founder and CTO of Alchera, who was my colleague back then, but it didn’t work out so well. Hwang moved to SK Telecom Research lab in 2014, but we decided to try once more. So we each resigned from our companies and founded Alchera. We raised 1.5B won funding from Naver and officially registered the company a month later. This became the stepping stone for us. Our first contract was with SNOW AR Camera app from CampMobile, Naver’s subsidiary company.”
― How did Alchera develop SNOW AR Camera app?
“Back then, Chang Wook Kim, CEO of CampMobile (Now SNOW Corporation), asked us to develop 3D face analysis engine. Back in 2016, there were only two companies owning 3D face analysis technology, which were Snapchat and Facebook. Since we already had an achievement on face recognition technology at Samsung Electronics, we had confidence and accepted the task. Hwang and I focused on developing the technology and came up with a result only in 3 months.
After that, SNOW got really popular among young people and Alchera also went viral on this field. Now we have 21 clients, 52 team members in Korea, and last year we incorporated in Vietnam and hired 100 team members there for our data business.”
― Did your career as Samsung help you with this new business?
“It helped me a lot with networking. Many of my colleagues from Samsung Electronics research lab were working at SK Telecom, LG U+ and many other IT corporate’s research labs. I guess my network from the lab helped Alchera to find partners and clients.”
― You developed the face recognition technology applied on Galaxy 8, yes?
“Yes, I did. I was a member of that research team. We even had a demo in front of Jae Yong Lee, Vice President of Samsung with that technology. We put a lot of effort into checking if it worked with hats and glasses on or if it could work even with a picture of a face. A lot of all-nighters led us to a high-quality product.”
― Any difficulties with the business?
“It was really hard to hire AI and computer vision experts. There aren’t many AI experts in Korea and it was also very hard to attract them to a startup instead of a corporate. Currently, there are 5 engineers, including me, from Samsung’s research lab. We recruited some developers from our old colleagues and educated other developers who don’t have any experience in AI. Now, thankfully, we have 33 engineers at our company.”
― Which field is Alchera focusing on?
“I’m focusing on ‘convenience’ and ‘safety’ for our technology. This year, we collaborated with Shinhan Card and developed payment using face recognition technology that doesn’t need a credit card. It’s currently only installed at Shinhan Card’s company building but it will be commercialized by next year.
Also, there was a problem with long wait lines at Incheon International Airport’s immigration system since people had to stop in front of the camera for face recognition. When our face recognition technology developed for the immigration system is commercialized by next year, people can just walk through immigration without any need to stop in between, which will make the process much faster and convenient.
About the ‘safety’, we developed anomaly detection technology that catches fire from mountains or utilities and automatically alerts authorities. KEPCO, the Korea Power Corporation is our main client with this technology. Also for public safety, we developed a technology that compares the faces from CCTV with a criminal suspect’s information to search the video database and trace the suspect.”
― Future plans?
“Alchera wants to become the best in the AI field. We hope Alchera positively impacts the overall society and various industries. We are kicking off the scaling-up phase of our business to meet this vision. As part of this, we are preparing for IPO next August.”