Samsung plans to expand its focus on health tracking technologies, the company said today. At an event in San Francisco, the company said there needs to be better technology for keeping tabs on the body at all times. That includes a mix of sensors, data, and behavioral science that can give both consumers and healthcare providers a deeper and more complete view of human health. Samsung also introduced a new hardware reference design called Simband that tracks human vital metrics and connects it to a health data platform.
One big data platform for health sensors
Its new SAMI platform, which was outlined today, mixes both hardware and a cloud backend for sensor data. Samsung says it will improve wearable devices and the health data they gather, be it what's out there now, or in the future. In a presentation, Young Sohn — the president and chief strategy officer of Samsung Electronics — said he hopes it will result in a similar shift to what happened in the original smartphone boom, and that the problem is the "single greatest opportunity of our generation."
Aiding that will be next-generation sensors, said Samsung's VP of digital health Ram Fish. That includes sensors that will more easily be able to test blood glucose, and even what's in the air around you. In the meantime, what Samsung referred to as an "investigational device" called the Simband, will be ground zero for tracking that information. The wrist-mounted band has a modular array of sensors on the bottom. Those sensors monitor various body activities like heart rate and oxygen levels, but could be expanded with extra hardware to track other things. In a live demo, the Simband hardware was able to show Fish's live heart rate and other vitals on a device that looked a lot like the existing Samsung Gear smartwatch
Not all of this is ready right now, and there's still much work to be done, the company said. Samsung's healthcare APIs, for instance, won't be available until later in the year, and some of the sensors and battery technology to keep everything powered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week just aren't ready yet. The company said it's working with groups like the University of California San Francisco and other research groups in the meantime to track early data gleaned from the platform and its architecture.
On top of this, Samsung announced a "digital health challenge" that will award a $50 million investment to groups working on healthcare tracking projects. That also includes work on new sensor technology and algorithms to churn through and analyze the mountains of data.
Not ready just yet
Samsung's event comes just days ahead of Apple's annual developer conference, where the company is expected to unveil its own health platform. According to a report from 9to5mac earlier this year, Apple plans to show off Healthbook, a new service to track biometrics likes heartbeat, blood pressure, and a wide range of physical activity. That platform is expected to go hand in hand with new wearable hardware.
For its part, Samsung said there were many places to put body-mounted health tracking devices, but that the wrist was the best option for now. Other options were glasses, legs, chest, ear, and upper arm monitors, the company said. In its current iteration, the Simband's reference design includes a battery on the bottom of the band that will build charge with activity. There's also a secure communications port to sync data locally. On the inside is a chipset Samsung's Fish says is about half the size of an SD card. On that board is a 28 nanometer 1GHz dual-core ARM A7 processor, along with WiFi and Bluetooth to connect to other devices wirelessly.
Samsung's released a number of health-focused products and services over the past two years. That includes a health-tracking app called S Health that was released to work with the Galaxy S3 smartphone in 2012. The company followed that up with its Gear, and Gear Fit smartwatches, both of which rely on smartphones to do most of the heavy lifting. It's also offered some smartphone buyers free subscriptions to third-party fitness and self-tracking apps like RunKeeper and MapMyFitness. One big difference in this case, is that Samsung's platform could play nice with other hardware manufacturers, something we're eager to know more about.