Samsung’s bet on the Internet of Thing is about to get a little smaller — physically, that is.
The South Korean electronics giant on Tuesday plans to reveal new chip platforms to power Internet-connected devices, ranging from wearables to smart washing machines, sources tell CNET. The new hardware will be called Artik, said a person who didn’t want to be named in talking about a product that’s not yet announced, and it comes from Samsung’s Menlo Park, Calif.-based Strategy and Innovation Center.
The group — which is led by Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung Electronics — has been tasked with seeking new technology, partnerships and investments in hardware, generally with a longer-term view. Sohn, who launched a $100 million US investment fund for Samsung in early 2013, has seen his role expand in recent months to include oversight over more of Samsung’s investments and its research and development. In total, Samsung has allocated more than $1 billion to fund US startups.
Sohn will introduce Artik during a keynote at the Internet of Things World conference on Tuesday in San Francisco. In a press release about the keynote, Samsung has said it “will reveal a major company milestone that will enable the new wave of groundbreaking IoT devices and services. The event will bring together industry leaders, entrepreneurs, developers and emerging companies to discuss the future of IoT and its profound implications.”
“By continuing efforts to connect devices and people to achieve greater insights, we have a huge opportunity to work with others in the industry, to tackle these real-world issues in ways that will fundamentally change people’s lives for the better,” Sohn said in the press release.
Samsung has been making a big bet on the Internet of Things, the concept of using sensors and other technologies to hook just about anything you can think of into the Internet. Analyst firm Gartner predicts the number of networked devices will surge to 26 billion units by 2020 from about 900 million in 2009, turning formerly “dumb” objects into smart ones that can communicate with each other. IDC reckons the IoT market will hit $3.04 trillion that same year.
Last August, Samsung acquired smart-home startup SmartThings to help with its push. SmartThings’ technology helps consumers to control their appliances from their smartphones, smartwatches and other devices, and it has been viewed as key to Samsung’s smart-home and Internet of Things efforts.
During the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in January, Samsung, led by co-CEO Boo-Keun Yoon, vowed that all of the company’s products would be built on platforms that are open and compatible with other products. Yoon said that that 90 percent of its devices — which range from smartphones to refrigerators — would be able to connect to the Web by 2017. In five years, every product in the company’s entire catalog is expected to be Internet-connected.
But Artik won’t just be targeted at Samsung’s own appliances. Instead, other device makers will be able to use the chips in their products.
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Artik is the second product to come from Young’s innovation initiative in the past year. In May 2014, the group revealed new open software and a so-called reference design hardware to better measure certain health characteristics of wearables users, including heart rate and blood pressure. Its Simband fitness band reference design — a template describing how a particular technology should work — incorporates a new sensor module that can be used in future wearables, while a cloud-based software platform called Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions, or SAMI, can collect sensor data from the devices for analysis.
As Samsung’s core mobile business continues to struggle, the company is counting on its other businesses — such as home appliances and semiconductors — to boost its profits. Samsung is the world’s biggest maker of memory chips and also manufactures application processors that serve as the brains of devices, including many of Apple’s iPhones. The company’s new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones use Samsung’s Exynos applications processor instead of a Qualcomm chip, as well as Samsung-made flash memory and the wireless chip that connects the phone to 3G and 4G networks.
Samsung largely targets Exynos at its own devices, and essentially no other companies buy the processors. But selling Artik to other device makers could give Samsung a boost. It also puts Samsung in fiercer competition with chipmakers such as Intel and Qualcomm, which make their profits from supplying processors, not the devices that use them. All of the companies have been looking to wearables and the Internet of Things as new areas of growth.
Intel, for instance, in January revealed a processor platform for wearables, dubbed Curie. The button-sized device includes a processor, Bluetooth low-energy radio, sensors and a dedicated engine to determine different sporting activity. It’s also able to run for extended periods with a coin-size battery, or can be recharged. Such a minuscule chip could power wearables of different designs, from rings to pendants to clothes. Curie and Samsung’s Artik may be competing for many of the same customers.