Samsung unveils prototype health device a week before Apple

Sumsang's Simband health device
Sumsang's Simband health device

One week before Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, where the company is widely expected to announce its rumored Healthbook app, Samsung hosted an event called Voice of the Body in San Francisco to show off a couple of digital health projects.

The two new digital health projects included Simband, an “investigational device” — not a product – that is stocked with a variety of health sensors and room for third party developers to add their own. Samsung also unveiled Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions, or SAMI, which it described as a “data broker” that future devices based on the Simband and other third party health tracking devices could upload data to that could then be used by app developers to create new apps.

During his presentation Samsung Electronics’ Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of device solutions at the company, said that consumer-driven digital health has had three generations so far. The last five years were all about smartphone health apps, while the second generation — the one we’re in now — is focused on connected fitness devices. Next, digital health is moving into the wearable sensor era.

While Sohn said the current generation is fitness devices, he also hinted that Samsung will launch fitness devices in the future.

Ram Fish, Samsung’s VP of mHealth, presented and demo’d the company’s new projects on-stage at the event. Fish founded Blue Libris, which Numera Health acquired for an undisclosed sum in early 2012. Fish spent about a year at Apple before joining Samsung in his current role last summer.

Fish talked up future sensors that could be integrated with Samsung’s Simband in the future, including acoustic sensors, optical sensors, and others that will be able to sense the air around us and even blood glucose levels, according to the live reporting on the event from CNET.

While Fish admitted that the wrist is not an ideal location for a health sensor-laden device from a biomedical perspective, his team concluded that it is the way most people will be comfortable wearing such a device 24/7. To facilitate that kind of all-day, all-night wearability, the Simband makes use of a “shuttle battery” that magnetically clips onto the Simband and charges it while the wearer sleeps.

Simband includes WiFi- and Bluetooth-connectivity and Samsung says the sensors and “potential applications” for the device include: 

Multiple photoplethysmogram: A PPG sensor will shine light on your skin to measure changes in blood flow at the microvascular level and monitor physiological phenomena, such as heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs. We’re working on a PPG sensor that uses two lights—both red and green at various wavelengths—for even better accuracy.

Electrocardiogram: Simband’s ECG will measure the rate and regularity of your heartbeat. The ECG sensor is designed to work with the PPG sensor to map pulse arrival time into an estimation of blood pressure.

Bioimpedance: Simband will be the first open reference design platform in the world that is designed to leverage bioimpedance to monitor everything from blood flow to body fat. [In one of Samsung’s promotional videos for the device it also suggests this sensor could be used for hydration tracking, which is a controversial claim.]

Galvanic skin response: GSR sensors will measure the electrical conductivity of the skin. This could be useful in measuring your stress levels.

Temperature: Simband will measure your skin temperature and uses a set of algorithms designed to parse that information to estimate core temperature. This information may be useful in monitoring calorie expenditure and the state of your nervous system.

While Samsung didn’t give any specifics around when its partners could begin working with the Simband device or creating apps that tap into SAMI, it said that SAMI’s beta roll out will launch by yearend.

Samsung’s mobile health team is already working with UCSF, IMEC, and the University of Chicago to develop and validate Simband and SAMI. It has also partnered with health tracking data platform TicTrac.

Finally, Samsung announced a $50 million fund that it will use to back startups and other companies developing new health sensors and algorithms, to validate digital health technologies, and to fund partners helping it build out Simband and SAMI.