Friday, June 13, 2014

Samsung Simband aims to take a big step in wearable health

James Martin/CNET
Today, there's the Samsung Gear Fit. But it seems that if you listened to Samsung president Young Sohn, that's merely a temporary patch for what the future of wearable health tech will really bring.
Samsung's health event, called "Voice of the Body," happened today. And at it, Sohn, discussed a three phase evolution of health tech, starting with phones, then moving to wearable devices, and finally ending up at wearable sensors. We're currently in the middle phase.

The next step, unveiled by VP Ram Fish, is Simband, another health band, but not a smartwatch: its focus is entirely on health tracking, collecting lots of data to share with medical researchers, doctors, and for personal health use. Simband is designed to be open and modular, and comes studded with a ton of medical sensors.
The Simband is designed to work with a variety of medical needs and with many sensor technologies, and to eventually work with SAMI, Samsung's cloud-based solution for collecting and analyzing sensor-based health data.
James Martin/CNET
Unlike something comparatively primitive like the current Samsung Gear 2 and Gear Fit heart-rate watches, the Simband has multiple sensors. It uses optical, electrical, and physical methods of collecting heart rate, blood flow, temperature, CO2 and oxygen levels, and even simulated blood pressure, all to display real-time electrocardiograph information of it all. Even the optical sensors on the Simband seem improved, with multiple wavelength LEDs at once. Samsung admits its measurement technology needs to be more accurate. We at CNET agree.

The design looks a bit like most recent Gear watches. There are differences: the battery's hot-swappable for easy night charging while wearing to enable 24/7 tracking. Inside, an ARM-based processor handles processing of the various sensors. The Simband has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so it can share data to local devices or directly to Samsung's cloud.

The goal of Simband is to offer open APIs for medical use, and to test the Simband at hospitals and medical institutions. The University of California, San Francisco is already working with Samsung and the Simband. Right now, Simband is a concept device, a reference for future wearable health sensor-laden tech, but it could be a leaping-off point for future Samsung wearables, too.
James Martin/CNET
So who is Simband for? You, the consumer, don't need to worry yet. The Simband seems squarely focused on Big Health and medical institutions for now, as new ways are discovered to make the best use of different arrays of sensors. The idea seems to be to use it to help prevent disease and deliver better health profiles: one app, called TicTrac and demonstrated on-stage at Samsung's event, used the Simband's multiple sensors to quickly gather a health rating.

Maybe the Simband could help predict illnesses before they strike, or get people to fix their bad habits early. That could be great for anyone. Of course, preventative medical tech could save hospitals and health insurance companies a ton of money, too.

The bigger question is how these sensors will evolve, how Samsung's cloud will use the data, and how other researchers and companies will be able to develop tools for Simband. The medical industry is a large beast, and Samsung's desire to create a new open platform is an ambitious one, to say the least. And, odds are Samsung won't be the only company to try to lay claim to an open health platform.

Simband looks a first step toward acknowledging how big a hill wearable health tech still has left to climb.

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