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Samsung targets enhanced smart health position with Bio-Processor

Samsung Electronics firmed up its mHealth (mobile health) position last week, following the announcement that it is launching an all-in-one advanced system logic chip. Samsung calls this the Bio-Processor and its current focus is towards the wearables market for the quantified self.

There are plenty of popular consumer products on the market that measure body functions such as pulse – like the Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike’s FuelBand, and of course many rather inaccurate ones too, at much cheaper price points. Samsung wants to take its Bio-Processor to the next level for the health-conscious consumer by measuring body fat, skeletal muscle mass, heart rate, skin temperature, and stress level (sweatiness).

It’s likely that the Bio-Processor will be used in conjunction with Samsung’s Simband reference design, which it announced in 2014 alongside the Samsung Architecture Multimedia Interactions (SAMI) cloud platform that would handle the backend of all the data generated by the Simband – although Samsung has been fairly quiet about that project, as of late.

The chip processes bio-signals without the need for expensive or clunky external medical processing equipment, it does this by integrating an analog front end (AFE), microcontroller unit (MCU), power management integrated circuit (IC), digital signal processor (DSP), and eFlash memory. The Bio-Processor comes with 512 KB Flash, 256 KB RAM and a Cortex M4 CPU. Samsung provides a handy chart that displays the increased power efficiency of the Bio-Processor with DSP compared to discrete chips without DSP.

The integrated AFEs in the chip records a range of biometric data that should put the Bio-Processor in a different league to wearables that focus solely on heart rate and calories burned. Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) measures body fat, photoplethysmogram (PPG) uses an LED pulse oximeter to monitor the cardiac cycle and respiration, electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors the heart’s electrical activity, and the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) system detects electrical nerve impulses in the skin.

What’s most interesting about mHealth ventures for wearables, is how health insurers and providers like the NHS in the UK might, and eventually will, want to adopt these devices in the future.

The potential for a wearable device that can monitor such a range of body functions to a high degree of accuracy is huge, far beyond the quantified self. For example, these devices could be given out to at-risk patients and connected back to a central server for analysis when at home and on the move. If any abnormalities are detected, it could immediately flag this up and have a medical response team out as soon as possible – potentially preventing tragedies such as heart attacks before they happen.

Treatment, intervention and complications for diabetes costs the NHS an estimated £10 billion ($14.58 billion) every year. Early detection of complications via a future system based on something like the Bio-Processor connected to a cloud, such as IBM’s Watson Health Cloud, could save vast sums of cash.

Big Blue already took a step in this direction early last year, by providing the Watson cloud to Medtronic to create highly-personalized care management for diabetics. The system creates and alters treatment plans by pulling data from Medtronic devices such as insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors – helping to avoid accidental overdoses that hospitalize many diabetics, and cost a lot of money in treatment that might be prevented with such a solution. IBM believes that the average person is likely to generate more than one million gigabytes (1 Petabyte) of health-related data in the course of their lifetime.

Samsung will likely be integrating the Bio-Processor into its own wearable devices pretty soon, or may even launch an entirely new range of health-related wearables. It is also offering a reference design for wearables, and will be rolling out the chip to customers, including OEMs, sometime in the first half of 2016. Samsung said its Bio-Processor is designed to “allow accelerated development” of new fitness and health products.

Qualcomm’s health-focused subsidiary Qualcomm Life combined its 2net platform with AMC Health’s CareConsole System last year. The joint venture allows management of chronic care outside the hospital, in the patient’s home and on the move. Qualcomm’s 2net hardware platform monitors data such as blood pressure or blood sugar levels from devices such as wearables.

Let’s not forget that Apple is also in the mHealth sector, last year it broadened its existing partnership with IBM to focus on healthcare applications. Apple integrates its ResearchKit and HealthKit software frameworks into the applications, and IBM’s Watson Health provides medical researchers with a data storage system, as well as access to IBM’s substantial data analytics capabilities. Unfortunately for Apple, its Apple Watch hasn’t taken off to the extent that it can integrate its HealthKit platform into the wearable.

“Samsung’s Bio-Processor, which can process five different biometric signals, is the most versatile health and fitness monitoring chip available on the market today and is expected to open up many new health-based service options for our customers,” said Ben K. Hur, Vice President of marketing at Samsung Electronics.

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