Samsung launches Artik chips for the Internet of Things

Samsung Electronics President Young Sohn says the products, which combine hardware and software, are a complete system for building devices that connect to the Internet.

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Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
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Young Sohn, Samsung president and chief strategy officer, reveals the company's new Artik processors to power the Internet of Things. James Martin/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Samsung on Tuesday revealed a new chip family to power the Internet of Things, putting it in more direct competition with Intel, Qualcomm and others in the quest to connect everything.

Young Sohn, the Samsung Electronics president and chief strategy officer in charge of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Samsung Strategy & Innovation Center, said the Artik line of processors combines hardware and software to help companies quickly and easily build Internet-connected devices. Alex Hawkinson -- CEO of SmartThings, a smart-home startup Samsung bought last year -- also unveiled the SmartThings Open Cloud to make it easier and faster for device makers and other companies to quickly create apps for the products.

There are three variations of Artik: Artik 1, Artik 5 and Artik 10, with each subsequent chip packing in faster processing and more complex capabilities. The chips will range from less than $10 to less than $100, Sohn said, and will be aimed at everything from simple trackers to drones and smart-home hubs. Both the chips and the SmartThings Open Cloud are available today to be used in new Internet of Things devices.

"What's important is these are smart machines that are going to make our lives better," Sohn said during a keynote address at Internet of Things World at San Francisco's Moscone Center.

CNET last week reported that Samsung planned to introduce new processors.

Samsung's new processors follow a similar push by Intel. The company in January revealed a processor platform for wearables, dubbed Curie. The button-size 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, which is based on 32-nanometer technology, won't be available until the second half of the year, which gives Artik a lead.

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.

In August, Samsung acquired smart-home startup SmartThings to help with its push. SmartThings' technology helps consumers 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.

Currently, about 19,000 devices that connect to SmartThings have been created by companies, and the platform supports more than 30,000 apps, Hawkinson said during a press roundtable at the keynote.

"Artik is only going to accelerate that," he said. "Part of that is not only the single device but the community and what you can do when you're connecting these things together."

Up close with the health-focused Samsung Simband (pictures)

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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 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. Samsung last year shipped about 665 million devices across its mobile and electronics businesses.

Samsung Strategy & Innovation 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 of more of Samsung's investments and its research and development. In total, Samsung has allocated more than $1 billion to fund US startups.

Artik is the second product to come from Sohn'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.

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One of Samsung's new Artik processors is the size of a ladybug. James Martin/CNET
Samsung's most advanced Artik chip uses the same technology as the company's smartphone processors, Sohn said.

"Everything's already crammed in, so why don't we take advantage of the technology developed for phones and make it available for [the Internet of Things]?" he said during the press roundtable.

Samsung brought customers on stage during the keynote Tuesday to talk about their plans with Artik and the SmartThings Smart Cloud. Yoon Lee, vice president of smart-home and digital appliances at Samsung Electronics, said the company will be using the new products in Samsung's upcoming devices.

"The vision that we have is because your life really revolves around connectivity, connectivity is really dictating how you manage your lifestyle," Lee said during the press roundtable. "We want our products to be inside your lifestyle, not outside your lifestyle. That said, we have lots of stuff to connect. ... What Artik will do is essentially cut off the development process because we can leverage and utilize what's already being produced."

And Boogio, a startup that can turn any shoe into a smart shoe for purposes such as rehabilitation, is using Artik 1 in the fifth generation of its device. Because Samsung has combined the chips, power management and sensors already, Boogio instead can focus on other features and get its products out faster.

Artik will "enable us to take our technology to the next level," Boogio CEO Jose Torres said. "Artik comes at a very critical time in our development cycle."

Along with Artik and the SmartThings Smart Cloud, Samsung also announced a $100,000 award for whoever can create the best idea to solve the California drought crisis. Samsung will present the award at its next developer conference, which has taken place in the fall for the past two years.

Updated at 9:35 a.m. PT with additional details and partners, and 11:40 a.m. PT with executive comments from press roundtable.