Alumnus Mines Data for Dollar in Global
Daniel Zhu (Ph.D. '93) and the view from
the office of Zaptron's Shanghai Research Laboratory.
An affinity for the Silicon Valley venture culture has drawn
Dongping Daniel Zhu (Ph.D. '93) into projective geometry and
multidimensional analysis, and industries as diverse as pharmaceuticals
and electronics. It has also taken him back to his native China
in a variety of roles.
Zhu is the founder of Zaptron
Systems, a three-year-old start-up firm that develops and
markets data mining software and services.
"Data mining is the development of new knowledge by analyzing
existing information," Zhu explained. The knowledge of how
to improve productivity, quality, and yield, can often be developed
through data that organizations already have, he said. Firms
have answers to questions involving new products, efficiency,
even customer support buried in their databases, he said.
However, human beings can't analyze such large amounts of data
mentally, but find it difficult to program computers to do so,
since very often, even the questions are not known, he said.
With data mining technology, however, "We turn data into
dollars. In data mining, source data can be anything from operating
data, customer support data, even historical patent data. Often,
however, valuable information is difficult to develop because
the data are non-Gaussian, non-linear, noisy, and non-uniformly
sampled," he added.
The company's flagship product, MasterMiner, is based on
proprietary technology in projective geometry. Unlike Euclidean
geometry, projective geometry is concerned with incidences, that
is, where elements such as lines, planes, and points either coincide
or not. Zaptron software and services also use pattern separability,
pattern topology and sub-space modeling. "Much of our work
is in hyperspace," Zhu said. "For each data set, we
have to extract a set of features. Then we do all the analysis
in multidimensional space."
Zaptron customers and partners represent many industries, including
computers, electronics, semiconductor manufacturing, materials
engineering, petrochemicals, automotive, and finance. The company's
many success stories include increasing jet fuel yield by 7 percent,
cutting electricity consumption of an aluminum plant by 3 million
Kwatt per year, and optimizing penicillin production and increasing
the yield by 8 percent.Another developing area he mentioned is
in mining patent data for potential discoveries of new materials.
Zhu's interest in data mining and software developed after he
completed his formal education. While a graduate student at Tech,
he gained a signal processing background, and then did his Ph.D.
research in image processing, with Richard Conners as his advisor.
He was one of 50,000 Chinese students studying in the United
States who were granted permanent residency after Tiananmen Square
in 1998, and took his first job with InVision Technologies 18
months before finishing his Ph.D. degree. At InVision, he worked
in the area of computer vision, image processing and algorithms
for airport security systems He then joined Loral GlobalStar
as a senior research scientist working on satellite communications
system design and simulation.
The Silicon Valley start-up culture appealed to him, and he left
GlobalStar to work at Aptronix as a product director. While at
Aptronix, Zhu was involved in fuzzy logic product development
and software issues. During this time, he co-founded International
Society of Information Fusion, and chaired the 1st and 2nd international
conferences on information fusion. When Aptronix spun off Zaptron,
he was ready to start his own firm, and took the position as
founder and president. "Electrical engineering gave me the
background to start my career," he explained, "but
in more recent years, I have grown more interested in marketing
and business development."
He has taken his interest in marketing back to China, where he
has helped develop research projects at four Chinese universities.
"We are trying to find a larger market in China," he
said. "With the Internet, we can expand worldwide."
Zhu has become actively involved in China's high-tech business
development. He currently serves as president of SCOBA, a professional
organization of the Silicon Valley high-tech Chinese community.
He has led U.S. executives on visits to China, for technical
exchanges, business planning, leadership training, investment,
and other ventures.
He served four years as vice dean of the Information Technology
College at Dalian University of Technology. He is currently an
adjunct professor of controls at Northeastern University and
a senior research fellow at Beijing University's School of Business
Management. He advises China's Ministry of Science and Technology
and Minitry of Information Industry, and serves on the editorial
board of China Venture Capital magazine.
"There is much potential in the interaction of the Silicon
Valley and Chinese markets," he said. And he hopes to realize
some of that potential.