Samsung shows off Simband watch as platform for multiple health sensors

It considers the concept a common platform for wearable sensor development by third parties

Samsung demonstrated a concept watch, the Simband, that's designed to be a platform for sensors from third-party vendors and to work with Samsung's SAMI wireless data broker service.

The Simband has room in its band for multiple sensors and has a removable battery to let users keep the device on continuously. Though Samsung didn't announce any product plans or release date for the Simband, the company did describe several elements of its hardware architecture, including a motherboard smaller than an SD card.

[Watch a video report about the Simband here.]

The Simband is powered by a 1GHz dual-core Arm A7 processor and has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios. While the watch displays time and personal health data, the band is where the newest stuff is. It contains the Simband Sensor Module, which can accommodate optical, electrical and physical sensors, and the thin removable battery, which attaches to the band magnetically.

Samsung pitched the Simband as a common platform for wearable sensor development that would remove the need for manufacturers to create a device from scratch every time they want to make a new type of sensor. The data from those sensors can be collected by SAMI (Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions) and can be used in a variety of apps from third parties.

Mobile health is the opportunity of a generation but will take many players to solve, said Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer at Samsung Electronics.

"I believe this is a big enough challenge that we cannot do it alone," Sohn said.

Samsung already includes some health-related capability in its Galaxy Gear and Gear Fit smartwatches, such as pedometers and simple heart-rate monitors. Simband is a step toward more serious and useful health wearables, said Opus Research analyst Greg Sterling.

"A lot of the health devices, fitness trackers, wristbands, previously were really more curiosities, or novelties," Sterling said. But Simband's success will be determined largely by how much partner participation Samsung can get, he said.

The company chose a watch design because the wrist is the only place where consumers are used to wearing something all the time, said Ram Fish, Samsung's vice president of digital health. "It's the one location to create a truly wearable wearable," he said.

The Simband starts with sensors for heart rate, heart-rate variability and temperature, but it can house many more parts in its sensor module. Opening up the Simband to third-party sensors could allow for components that detect blood oxygen level, respiration, and hydration, among other things, Samsung said. If the user puts a finger on the clasp of the band, it can even estimate blood pressure. In a bit of futuristic flash, Fish projected his watch face onto the overhead screen and showed it displaying a real-time electrocardiogram display like those on heart monitors in hospital rooms, along with two other real-time heart measures.

While the sensors in a Simband collect data, third-party software can tap into that data and combine it with other information through SAMI, said Luc Julia, Samsung's vice president of innovation. That platform is intended to work with a variety of devices, and Samsung has said it is working with partners including Fitbit and Pebble on the system. SAMI can take in all kinds of new and stored data in its native format and make it available for researchers and startups to observe correlations and interactions among the data, he said.

The one thing they can't do is get to that information without the user's consent, according to Samsung. Users are the only people who can grant access, Julia said.

"Samsung doesn't own the data, doesn't control the data. You do," he said.

Samsung also announced a Digital Health Challenge in which it will invest US$50 million to help entrepreneurs work on health-related projects.

The company is working with selected partners already on the Simband platform and expects to release a Simband SDK (software development kit) later this year. A beta version of an API (application programming interface) for SAMI will also come by the end of the year, Sohn said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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