With the rapid growth in wearables, and the resulting variety of “quantified-self” applications, it was only a matter of time before chip vendors started developing custom VLSI to shorten development cycles and decrease cost for consumer hardware vendors. Samsung announced what it calls the Industry’s first Smart Bio-Processor. This all-in-one chip can not only monitor heart rate, but body fat, skeletal muscle mass, heart rhythm, skin temperature, and stress level.
Versatile sensing integrated on-chip
Early fitness and health-monitoring devices depended almost entirely on heart rate monitoring. But as applications have become more sophisticated, the need for recording other bio-metric data has increased. In particular, Samsung has also integrated Analog Front Ends (AFEs) for bio-electrical impedance and analysis (BIA), photoplethysmogram (PPG), electrocardiogram (ECG), skin temperature, and galvanic skin response (GSR). Similar to the way advance image processing chips integrate a variety of application-specific and general purpose components, the Samsung Bio-processor also integrates microcontroller units (MCU), a power management integrated circuit (PMIC), a digital signal processor (DSP), and eFlash memory into a single package.
Multiple reference platforms also launched
Samsung is also making reference designs for wrist bands, boards, and patch-type devices available to OEMs. They are planning to ship the Bio-Processor to customers in volume sometime in the first half of 2016. Samsung sees the availability of the new chip as enabling new applications, in addition to allowing more efficient wearables. According to Ben K. Hur, Vice President of marketing, System LSI business at Samsung Electronics: “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.”
High-powered, but low power consumption
According to Samsung’s product catalog, the chip has 512KB of Flash, 256KB of RAM, and features a Cortex M4 CPU. By integrating these processing components with the analog sensing circuitry, the Bio-processor should greatly reduce power consumption in health-monitoring and fitness applications, as shown by the accompanying chart provided by Samsung. The integrated unit is also only one-quarter of the size of the discrete components it replaces.
The combination of low power, small size, and integrated processing should help enable more compact, less-expensive wearables, with increased functionality and longer battery life. We’ll be meeting with Samsung’s Bio-processor product team at CES this week, and will be reporting on any additional information we get. For now, Samsung says the part is in production, although its product catalog still shows it as under development.
January 4, 2016