Last year, Samsung invested $15 billion in R&D globally and it is currently working on cutting edge innovations in the areas of Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G mobile networks, AI, autonomous driving and connected car technologies.
In the just concluded hiring season at the IITs and other top engineering colleges in India, Samsung India picked up around 1,000 engineers. The smartphones and consumer electronics leader will engage these new hires on taking forward its plan to up the game in areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IoT), Natural Language Processing and others and of course on developing India specific innovations like it has been doing for many years now under its ‘Make for India’ programme.
“Samsung is extremely bullish on R&D in India and this focus on R&D has helped us cement our number 1 position in the Indian market. The three R&D centres in India work on several cutting edge technologies. As part of our ‘Make for India’ initiative, R&D centres in India also work on developing innovations that are centred on the needs of Indian consumers and also contribute to innovations for global products,” said Dipesh Shah, managing director, Samsung R&D Institute, Bangalore. Shah was recently elevated to the role of a global senior vice president at Samsung.
Last year, Samsung invested $15 billion in R&D globally and it is currently working on cutting edge innovations in the areas of Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G mobile networks, AI, autonomous driving and connected car technologies. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2018, Samsung talked about its plan around Internet of Things, calling it Intelligence of Things instead and showcased how Samsung products across the spectrum could deliver connected consumer experiences.
Hyunsuk Kim, President, Head of Samsung’s Consumer Electronics Division and Samsung Research said at CES 2018 that Samsung is committed to accelerating IoT adoption for everyone and making all Samsung connected devices intelligent by 2020. “These advancements will help consumers realise the benefits of a seamless and simple connected life,” he had said.
What is interesting is that a fair bit of work on these technologies is being done by Indian engineers at Samsung’s R&D centres in the country alongside localisation of many products and services for the Indian market. In India, Samsung R&D Institute, Bangalore (SRI-B), which is Samsung’s largest R&D centre outside its home market Korea, has expertise in AI, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality and networks including 5G.
In the last one year, the team at SRI-B has developed a large part of Samsung’s artificial intelligence interface Bixby, co-working with teams in Korea and other parts of the world. It has also developed many new camera features, including slow/fast motion, panorama, and others in Galaxy S8 and the bokeh mode while taking selfie in Galaxy Note8 and features in the latest flagship smartphones Galaxy S9 and S9+.
SRI-B has been recently conferred with the National Intellectual Property Awards 2018 by the government of India in the category of top foreign public limited company/private limited company for patents and commercialisation. The award has been given to Samsung for building a culture of innovation within the organisation by putting in systems and processes in place to motivate people to innovate and file more patents. Till date, SRI-B has filed 2,900 patents and every year the centre files between 250-300 patents on varied technologies.
Make for India
In 2015, Samsung started an initiative that it called ‘Make for India’. This is focussed on taking feedback from the market, getting on ground insights from consumers and developing innovations that help solve very specific problems of Indian consumers. One of the first products under this initiative was the ActivWash washing machine that integrated a sink and a water inlet with a top-loading washing machine. The consumer insight in this case was that Indian consumers first washed collars and sleeves in their bathrooms before bringing them to the machine.
The additional sink meant that job could be done at the washing machine. This washing machine became popular in India and later in Korea as well. Another interesting, yet simple feature is the Ultra Data Saving mode, which came in around the time 4G was launched in India. Looking at the way Indians used data those days, Samsung researchers developed this mode which compresses and provides upto 50% savings on mobile data and also helps free up device RAM, improving performance.
Consumer insights from different teams across Samsung India are funnelled into a team called the Make for India Task Force that is headed by Shah. One such insight was that many two-wheeler riders use their smartphones irresponsibly, while they are riding because they may be getting important calls. To ensure they ride tension free, Samsung’s R&D team in Noida developed the S-bike mode, which sends pre-decided messages to callers when the phone user was riding. Also, the rider cannot take calls till the bike is stationary.
The S-bike mode, the Ultra Data Saving mode and other such innovations are part of Samsung’s mid-segment Galaxy J Series smartphones that today make a third of the smartphone market in India.
Then there are other innovations in the consumer electronics space such as the Samsung 5-in-1 refrigerators and Roti & Naan Smart Ovens. More recently, they developed the Social Camera mode that helped users instantly edit and share photos and videos directly to social media sites from their camera app. This was launched in the Galaxy J7 Max.
Last year, when Samsung’s payments service Samsung Pay was to launch in India, the R&D teams put their heads together and localised it for India. This meant Samsung Pay was integrated with digital wallets such as Paytm and Mobikwik and government-backed Unified Payments Interface.
When Bixby Voice came to India with the Galaxy Note8, it was optimised for India by the SRI-B team to understand English in Indian accents. Also, when Note8 users use the S-pen to write a text message in Hindi, the phone converts the message into Devanagari script. “Innovating for India has become a culture at Samsung. Every engineer is thinking on these lines now,” said Shah.
A big peg in Samsung’s Make for India initiative is its manufacturing facilities in Noida and Sriperumbudur near Chennai. The first plant in Noida was set up in 1996, a year after Samsung entered India. In June 2017, Samsung announced an investment of `4,915 crore to expand its manufacturing in Noida, doubling capacity to produce mobile phones and refrigerators and catering to the huge demand for its products in the country.
What can be seen as a good example of forward thinking and also trust in India’s ability to grow at the time when the Indian economy had just opened up is the fact that Samsung set up its first R&D centre in Bangalore the same year. Two more R&D centres have been set up, in Noida and Delhi, over the years.
Many engineers at SRI-B are straight out of college. To help upskill these employees, SRI-B runs several training programmes in house as well as with academic institutions externally. Even employees with experience are encouraged to study further and enhance their knowledge.
In 2014, SRI-B tied up with IIIT-Bangalore for an M.Tech. programme with specialisation in computer science for its employees. Employees have to go through a rigorous entrance examination and an internal selection process to get into the programme. “We are continuously trying to scale up our talent capabilities and make our employees future-ready. This has paid rich dividends as it also helps fulfil the aspirations of employees,” said Shah.