Samsung announced Simband, a concept watch loaded with sensors that collect health data, and SAMI, a cloud-based sensor data platform, during a digital health event in San Francisco.

Wrist bands and smartphones embedded with sensors that can track vital signs and fitness levels have made health more personalized. Consumers have a variety of wearable products to choose from. But because these wearables work differently, the health data collected is likewise segregated. Ideally, experts say all the information should work under one system, enabling faster data mining and analysis.

Samsung is building such a digital health platform that can access all the data from multiple wearable devices. During its “Voice of the Body” health event held today in San Francisco, the electronics giant announced a concept smartwatch with multiple sensing capabilities and a corresponding cloud-based platform for which data gathered by the device and others like it could be stored and analyzed for health insights.

In a presentation, Samsung presented the Simband as both a smartwatch and a platform for wearables. The band of the watch is loaded with multiple sensors, including an optical light sensor that project beams of light at the surface or deeper into the skin to reach blood vessels to measure pulse rate or blood pressure. It also has an ECG sensor for heart rhythm readings, and an acoustic-based sensor is also in the works. Real-time measurements in wave-like patterns of different colors can be seen on the Simband’s display.

“We decided to start with the wrist, the one location where people wear a device continuously. It’s the one place where it is comfortable enough to wear something 24 by 7,” Ram Fish, vice president of digital health at Samsung Electronics, said during the presentation.

Other specifications of Simband include: a removable battery that attaches magnetically to the band, an SD card-sized motherboard, a 1GHz dual-core Arm A7 processor, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities.

Samsung says Simband is likewise a platform for wearable sensors that would eliminate the need for third-party vendors to build their own devices with biosensors. Instead, they only need to build sensors that could be installed in the sensor module of Simband.

The Simband software development kit (SDK) and application programming interface (API) would be available for developers later this year, the company said.

Many of Samsung’s current electronic products, the Galaxy S5 with a built-in heart rate monitor, and the Galaxy Gear and Galaxy Fit smartwatches, already have biosensors, but the recent announcement signals a long-term serious commitment by the company rather than a foray into the wearables market expected to be worth $8 billion by 2018, according to research firm Markets and Markets.

Samsung also unveiled the SAMI (Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions) cloud-based sensor data platform, which will store data from multiple wearables. Samsung said SAMI could provide researchers with enough real-time data in one place to study rather than deal with segregated data collected by different devices. The company said users would retain complete ownership of personal health information, and researchers and care providers would need to request access from users. Samsung said it is working with physicians at the University of California at San Francisco and the IMEC research institute in Belgium to refine how SAMI works in clinical settings.

The company also launched a Digital Health Challenge which would grant US$50 million to digital health startups working on wearable devices. Samsung said it wants to pool resources with others to make wearables truly helpful to people’s health.

“It's time to put these advanced technologies into the hands of individuals to focus on wellness and prevention, so we can reduce the suffering from these diseases before they ever occur,” Dr. Michael Blum, associate vice chancellor for informatics at UCSF, said during the meeting.

The announcement comes ahead of planned launches of smartwatches from Google and Apple, which are seen as Samsung’s main competitors in the consumer wearable devices field.