The popularity of wearable health trackers, such as Fitbit, Jawbone UP, and Nike FuelBand, have created a problem: A wealth of data about your activity is being produced but it's not very useful. Hardly anyone has developed algorithms that derive actionable insights from the data that your body generates, and the dashboards are separate—there is no way to see your Fitbit data on the FuelBand dashboard.
To address this problem, Samsung announced Wednesday it is creating an open platform for health-tracking apps, and a $50 million fund that will invest in entrepreneurs working on solutions for the platform.
A prototype device called the Simband was used to show how the platform is intended to work. Samsung is not planning to release a wearable health monitor to consumers, but expects other developers to build on the reference design shown today. The Simband, which is worn on the wrist, can track heart rate, oxygen levels, and temperature in real time. It can also be expanded to include other monitors, and has a detachable battery that can be recharged without being removed from the user's wrist.
The idea behind SAMI, which is short for the Samsung Architectural Multimodal Interactions platform, is to collect data from a multitude of sensors that researchers and developers can parse with their own algorithms. "With SAMI, since all the data is available in the same place, it's possible to take advantage of the richness and diversity of data," said Ram Fish, Samsung's vice president of digital health. Samsung's announcement comes the week before Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, where the company is rumored to launch its own fitness-tracking app.
Compared with some established fitness-tech companies, such as Fitbit, Nike, and Jawbone, Samsung got a late start in wearables. The Korean electronics company debuted its first smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear, in September, following up in March at Mobile World Congress with three other smartwatch models.
Though Samsung will still compete on a consumer level, the data on its platform could ramp up its business serving health care professionals. To illustrate the potential of SAMI, Luc Julia, vice president of innovation, pointed to PhysIQ, an early partner company working with Samsung's API. In a study conducted with the University of Chicago involving 15 patients who had experienced heart failure, sensors and predictive analysis were able to detect early signs of heart problems "days before the patients themselves knew anything was wrong," he said. Earlier this year, Samsung also partnered with the University of California San Francisco to validate its sensors.
Parsing information on Samsung's platform can turn "big data to small data, and small data to insights that people can understand—that are actionable," said vice president of innovation Luc Julia. "This is the small data, which is the key to understanding the voice of the body."
Samsung will announce more details about a developer's version of Simband, as well as the API for its platform, at its developer conference in the fall.
[Image: Alice Truong/Fast Company]