Today, Samsung has announced a major digital health initiative with the introduction of SIMBAND (hardare+software) and SAMI (big data cloud platform) which are both open-source hardware reference platform.
Young Sohn, President and Chief Strategy Officer (Samsung) opened the event by saying that we are currently using the “second gen” devices like the Samsung Gear Fit. The Next generation will mark a new era of wearable sensors that are much more integrated and invisible, possibly inside the body.
As a background for Samsung’s presentation, the company points out that 70% of people die from Chronic diseases that the cost of healthcare if $6.5 trillion of dollars annually and 1.2B people will be over the age of 60 by 2025. Samsung knows this well because South Korea and Japan are two of the fastest aging countries in the world.
Check the event presentation photo gallery below
Samsung looks at what happens to the phone where in about a quarter century, phones have become 20x less expensive, provide 17X more talk time, got 6X lighter and charge 10X faster. They think that personal healthcare technologies can evolve in the same way to make our lives better, just like phones have improved our capabilities to communicate.
This is going to be a long road and among the challenges that need to be overcome by every company playing in this field, sensor size, accuracy, meaningful insights (big data), power consumption (24/7 sensing), privacy and security are very difficult to deal with.
Samsung’s SIMBAND is pitched by Samsung as being an “advanced modular platform” that handles sensors, power management. It runs with Samsung hardware (of course), and Samsung is committing to continually reduce the size of sensors and provide the modular architecture – that’s for the hardware side.
On the data side, SAMI (Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interaction) is a cloud-based solution that will take in and host the data, which is built around 4 ideas: Agnostic, Secure, Open, Insight. Of course, Samsung’s own S-Health will be using SAMI to provide the initial volume and be their first client you want.
To validate the data gathering and insights, Samsung’s Digital Health lab is partnering with medical entities like imec in Europe and UCSF. This means that in-the-field medical teams will gain access to a ton of data, while Samsung gets some critical medical feedback and analysis from some of the best doctors in the world – not a bad plan at all.
A modular and open-source design
Ram Fish, VP of Digital Health (Samsung Electronics) showed a presentation about “Intertwined complexity”. It is the idea that we can gather data from multiple sensors (heart rate, optical, etc…) to get better insights. Of course, it’s not easy to do: today there isn’t anything big that does this and the problem is still under intense research. Even the manufacturability of such a solution isn’t obvious.
The first question is: what should be the form factor? Glasses, Wrist, Chest Legs, etc? Samsung found that the wrist form factor is not the most obvious one from a medical perspective, but it does make sense from a consumer perspective, since many people are already used to wearing something on their wrist.
The SIMBAND sensor and module will form the basis of Samsung’s effort to build a larger open platform. By “Open”, Samsung means that the hardware, software and industrial designs will be open-sourced.
A “Modular Design” means that companies using this platform will be able to integrate their own sensor technology, so that they don’t need to wait on Samsung to innovate. This is like a cradle with standardized connectivity and power for all kinds of sensors from Samsung and others.
Of course, Samsung has its own sensor design to get things started, and its Advanced Modular Sensor Platform is a hardware reference design that will be open-sourced. The first hardware reference design is the SIMBAND that was shown on stage. The sensor is based on light sensing. By casting light onto the skin and penetrate at different depth. The reflected light provides information about what’s in your body.
Along with other sensors, this forms a sensor array that makes it possible to continuously measure one’s heart rate, skin temperature, blood pressure etc… The Samsung team hopes that it will provide a larger picture of one’s health state.
Samsung gave a very interesting demo of what it means to continuously measure bio-data. We’ve shot the video below to show you (uploading now… come back later), since it’s much more visually interesting. The video includes a demo of the SIMBAND in action as well.
To be wearable on a 24/7 basis, Samsung has changed how the device is powered. The band will use a Shuttle Battery that can be swapped on the fly. The hardware platform fits on a 14.34mm board, which is 1/2 the side of an SDCard. Of course, it’s not yet super-small or embeddable in the body, but Samsung hopes that it will kick things out and provides a boost to the pace of innovation in this space.
Without meaningful interpretation, It’s just a “Blob” of data
Gathering data 24/7 is great, but they need to be analyzed and interpreted. Samsung knows that SIMBAND is only half the story because the end game is to provide better consumer services. Luc Julia from Samsung demonstrated SAMI, Samsung’s Data Broker that manages the bio-data from the sensors. Samsung says that it was designed to manage that “any” data in real-time from “any” devices. Samsung makes it clear that the user owns and controls the data.
Because SAMI gathers data from multiple places/devices, Samsung thinks that the combined information can provide a much better picture and provides patterns or insights that were not accessible before to doctors and algorithms.
SAMI is powered by an Open APIs so that even if you don’t use Samsung’s reference hardware they can still use the data/software related pieces of Samsung’s health initiatives. As an example, a study done with the University of Chicago showed that preventive insights could be gathered from this type of data.
Samsung shows data gathered on Mr. Ram Fish and showed how a person’s health score could be related to their sleep pattern, workout rhythm, eating habits etc. By looking at the whole picture, it is much easier to quantify and associate potential causes and effects.
UCSF To Help Validate The Data
UCSF was on stage to say that this kind of initiative could reduce heart diseases by 30-40%. This is huge. Today, we’re an extremely “reactive” society, which means that we focus our efforts on controlling the damage after the disease has occurred. The hope is that with a better understanding, we can become much more preventive. If prevention is successful, it is much more efficient and cost effective. If the idea works as well as expected, it would be a transformational technology.
But before we get there, people need to wear devices, and the data has to be accurate. UCSF will provide feedback on devices and data to “validate” that those sensors work as expected and bring meaningful data.
It is true that medical sensing today provides a tiny snapshot of a patient’s health. Most of the time, doctors have no idea what happened before or what lead to it. They only know what the current state is and can only monitor it on a temporary basis because as soon as the patient leaves the medical facility, the data gathering stops. This would change how medical data as acquired and used.
“This is the beginning”
Samsung makes it clear that this is only the beginning and it is willing to invest $50M to help startups and partners to build new products. It doesn’t sound like much, and we suspect that this number will go up as visible progress is made on the ground. It is not a problem that can be solved just by throwing money at it – most of the great problems aren’t.