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Samsung joins medical, fitness wearables race

Posted: 10 Jun 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Samsung  Young Sohn  medical  open software  fitness 

Samsung Electronics Chief Strategy Officer Young Sohn has led the chipmaker's charge in joining the digital medical revolution, with an open software platform in the works for devices and apps that can monitor the users' fitness and, possibly, manage their healthcare.

Sohn is to date the most high profile executive to join a digital medical revolution aimed at creating bracelets and watches, and smartphones and apps that disrupt today's medical establishment.

At a developer conference in San Francisco this fall Sohn will publish hardware interfaces for Simband, an open specification for a bracelet that can accommodate a wide array of fitness and medical sensors. At the event he also will release software interfaces for writing programs and cloud services for the platform.

An alpha version of the Simband is already in the hands of about ten developers, mainly start-up companies. Sohn is also courting giants such as sensor maker Bosch whom he planned to visit on a swing through Europe.

"This whole area is in a very early stage and many start-ups need a platform, so our goal is to have 50-100 companies that plug into these interfaces," said Sohn in an interview at the annual Imec Tech Forum.

Samsung will ship its own beta products at the fall event and anticipates commercial versions next year. It also aims to spend $50 million of its venture funds on start-ups who develop sensors or software for its platform.

So far it has announced two partnerships. The University of San Francisco will help validate its sensors, presumably at its medical school facilities. The Imec research institute is the first announced partner with a sensor, a multi-function device that measures electrocardiograms, bio-impedance, skin temperature, acceleration, and more.

"Think of it as Google Glass, our view of a wearable platform," said Sohn.

Young Sohn

Young Sohn talks about his Simband initiative at the Imec Tech Forum in Brussels.

Of course, Google already has its own recently announced platform called Android Wear. Sohn said Simband is not specifically tied to Android but will use Tizen and other mobile Linux variants including one developed by a software partner in England called TicTrac.

Samsung formally launched its initiative just days before Apple launched HealthKit and HomeKit, medical and home automation APIs in its iOS version 8. The APIs echo the name of the open-source WebKit software and leverage Apple's existing Made for iPhone program, supported by chip and software companies including Broadcom, Cypress, Marvell, and many others.

Samsung may be a bit late to the revolution but it brings big guns and will attract followers, said veteran technology analyst Richard Doherty, principal of Envisioneering . "Samsung has clearly lowered the bar to entry by using its semiconductor and manufacturing clout to deliver a very powerful biomedical sensor array," Doherty said.

Sohn has his personal chops, too. The EE earned an MBA at MIT, then spent ten years at Intel before rising to lead a string of companies including Agilent.

He served on the boards of ARM, Cadence, and Cymer and was brought in as CEO to take start-up Inphi Corp. public. Now he is taking his corporate firefighter role to the next level at the world's largest electronics company, helping lead an important next stage of its mobile battle with Apple and others.


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