Authored by: Shafishuhaza Sahlan, Yeong Che Fai

Being an academician is not as easy as how the community perceives it to be. In truth, there are at least seven practices in which an avid academician needs to accomplish(teaching, supervision, research, publication, consultation, service learning and commercialization). Realistically, an average academician will focus on one or two practices to excel in, but astonishingly enough, that is not the case here, as the article will reveal to you.

Meet Associate Professor Ir. Dr Zool Hilmi bin Ismail, who is making his mark as CAIRO UTM’s own, global expert in smart inventory management system (IMS). Kecil-kecil cili padi, is an understatement, but Dr Zool has paved his way into research globalization, upgrading the local technical talent of high-tech solutions to an international level.

Ir. Dr. Zool Hilmi Ibrahim, a fellow member of CAIRO UTM, graduated from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Skudai in 2000, first exposure to research through his Final Year Project supervisor, Dr Rosbi Mamat. The research was on kinematic and dynamic of a three degree-of-freedom robotic arm. During the final year of his studies, Dr Zool was fortunate to have had the opportunity and privilege of having Almarhum Emeritus Professor Dr Shamsudin Mat Amin, the co-founder of CAIRO UTM, as his mentor.  Inspired by Almarhum Emeritus Professor Dr Shamsudin leadership and mentoring skills, full of passion, Dr Zool ventured on his master’s degree in UTM. His project was in Direct Torque Control based on Space Vector Modulation for an induction motor, with then Associate Professor Dr Nik Rumzi bin Nik Idris from UTM. Involvement in the project has expanded his knowledge on control system application more.

It was during his master’s studies that Dr Zool had his first collaboration experience, on unmanned vehicles with Prof. Ir. Ts. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad from Universiti Sains Malaysia. On top of that, during his PhD study in Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh, UK, Dr Zool was further involved with industrial collaboration, which deepened his interest more on research collaboration. The research collaboration has initiated Dr Zool’s interest in global collaboration, which he perceives as globalization of local technical talent.

Having the coveted four years global collaboration experience during his PhD, Dr Zool believed that globalization of his research interest is the niche areas he wants to dwell in, transferring high-tech solutions to an international level. With that in mind, the first step is to secure grants to initiate the fundamental works, which Dr Zool was able to do using the RM3 million of National grants he attained, upon returning from his PhD studies. With a promising start, Dr Zool extended the research to a global level, with his research interest in smart inventory management system (IMS) using artificial intelligence (AI). One of the significant global IMS projects managed by Dr Zool is with Kantsu Ltd1 (refer Figure 1), a Japanese company that provides logistic services. With the technology developed by Dr Zool implemented on their auto-sampling cycle-count (refer Figure 2), the productivity of the workers in that field has been tremendously improved, by more than 200%. A significant accomplishment, with just an annual investment of RM24K, the ROI of the project is a whopping 750%!

Figure 1 Warehouse in Osaka Japan
Figure 2: OCR Vision API for Non-Barcode Items

The success of the project with Kantsu Japan has encouraged Dr Zool to pursue IMS on a global scale further, and this time round, Dr Zool collaborated with an industry from Saudi. In this project, the requirement is to regularly inspect, sample and document their pharmaceutical and medical products. However, due to the different specifications of these products, various unique inspection processes are required. To complicate the process further, since not all specifications can be encapsulated in the manual form, the current method became complex which led to a cumbersome and time-consuming process. To overcome this, Dr Zool developed an automated acquisition system to automatically capture images of the products, performing segmentation and extract relevant information onto the reporting format as requested by the customer. Another happy customer, Dr Zool is ready to embark on another venture.

This time round, Dr Zool solved the problems faced by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) Ltd, who collaborated with Aerodyne Australia R&D Pty Ltd, a drone-based managed solutions provider for aerial survey and inspection. The main objective of the project was to assist farmers to count their livestock as well as checking their fence integrity. In this project, a DJI drone was used, equipped with a high-definition camera hovering at approximately 60 meters above ground level to provide a clear aerial view of the animals to capture data on the field. As the AI consultant, Dr Zool developed the IMS using Caffe deep learning framework to detect the object of interest, by running the Faster-RCNN algorithm, utilizing the latest GPU technology on NVIDIA DGX-station. Utilizing the Faster-RCNN architecture, the images were crudely segregated into a series of different sized boxes using an image segregation algorithm, hence the number of cows is calculated (refer Figure 3). Another successful project was delivered and finalized.

Figure 3 Livestock Detection from Drone Aerial View at 60 m Altitude

The successful industrial collaboration with these countries has strengthened Dr Zool’s globalization of high-tech local skill throughout the years. Although demanding, Dr Zool has adapted well with how to handle the different cultures when dealing with different countries. Dr Zool understood how different countries have their own unique culture hence the need to be attentive and sensitive to the different cultures is vital. The experience has enhanced Dr Zool’s leadership skill in managing his team as well as managing the customers’ team. Having to meet high demand solutions with fast changing technology, he needs a team that is in parallel with his own interest and a constant hunger for success and undivided passion for high-tech solutions.

Hitherto, Dr Zool is portrayed as a passionate researcher focusing on global collaboration specifically on asset and inventory management systems. However, he is also an expert in drones; MJIIT go-to guy for drone assistance, Systematic Literature Review (SLR); assisting researchers in UTM publishing in high-ranking journals through his numerous workshops, and a fundamental control system expert; a dedicated lecturer in UTM. To date, Dr Zool has more than 700 citations, with an h-index of 15 and an i10-index of 242. In 2021 alone, Dr Zool has published at least seven Q1 journals, which is the highest ranking of journal publication in the academic world. It is no surprise that Dr Zool has been entrusted with the indoor drone application in CAIRO UTM Intelligent Manufacturing Lab, a RM4 million-worth Smart Manufacturing Lab in Malaysia.

Moving forward, Dr Zool is looking forward to more international or industry collaboration so he could be in the equation in transferring high tech solutions to the industry, in which is his uttermost satisfaction as an academician.

Dr Zool Hilmi Ismail, saying simply, is a diamond in a haystack. An academician who has hidden qualities but extremely hard to find. A humble beginning as a graduate of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, inspired by researchers from his degree studies, he now is propelling to achieving a renowned global researcher of smart inventory management systems. A product of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, the university couldn’t be prouder.

More about CAIRO UTM:

CAIRO UTM (Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics) is one of the leading Centres of Excellence in Malaysia focusing on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Control and Automation. Established in 1997, CAIRO UTM has produced numerous talents and significant research outcomes on AI & Robotics. In 2018, CAIRO UTM was awarded as one of the Competence Centre by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry MITI. UTM has strong linkages and networking with academic institutions, government sectors and industrial sectors, on national and international level.



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