Electronics innovations are being developed all of the time in the research and development facilities of Seoul-based Samsung, a conglomerate with subsidiaries in many industrial sectors, including electronics, heavy industry, chemicals and even insurance. Emerging markets in China and increased competition from startups in that country are likely to cause some turbulence for Samsung in the coming year, according to some industry commentators.
In terms of patent grants, however, Samsung enjoys an incredibly strong position globally. In 2013, Samsung Electronics earned 4,652 U.S. patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, 2nd only to IBM in that year. Samsung Display also placed incredibly high, 24th overall in 2013 with 1,259 U.S. patents. Samsung’s patent portfolio has been at the center of a series of expensive legal battles with Apple which have focused on alleged infringements of patents related to mobile electronic devices. Tablet devices are also at the center of patent infringement claims filed by Samsung and Nvidia against each other in recent months; the U.S. International Trade Commission announced that it would investigate Samsung’s claims against Nvidia for the infringement of patents related to graphics chips.
Today is our first of two Companies We Follow columns focusing on recent innovations from this conglomerate. This first part will focus on patents issued over the past few months by the USPTO. As always, Samsung has been issued some very interesting patents in the field of robotic technologies, including one protecting a technology that enables a robot to assume a more natural, human-like posture. Home media experiences, including televisions capable of processing video calls and a virtual reality input system, are discussed. We also discuss some patents in the field of mobile technologies, including disaster information broadcasts and traffic information widgets for electronic devices.
Robotic Developments Continue to Abound at Samsung
Samsung is also heavily invested in the development of touch-responsive display panels and television technologies among a variety of other sectors of electronics, but few areas of innovation capture the imagination like robotics. Robotics hasn’t made the major leap into consumer markets that are enjoyed by touchscreen devices or even Internet-enabled television, but Samsung is pushing the envelope on innovation in the space. For example, Samsung has been developing robotic consumer appliances to be used in home environments, such as its Powerbot VR9000 floor cleaner which offers remote control as well as larger wheels for scaling door thresholds. A long list of mainstream media outlets have picked up on intriguing Samsung robotic developments over the past year, such as the Samsung robotic human derriere that tested the durability and bending ability of smartphones, which received a great deal of media attention during the latter parts of 2014.
A multi-functional mobile robot that achieves targets of low consumer costs is the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8918950, entitled Mobile Robot System Having a Plurality of Exchangeable Work Modules and Method of Controlling the Same. The patent claims a mobile robot system with a plurality of work modules, each of which are configured to accomplish a different work task, and a module station that enables the securing of work modules to the mobile robot. The system protected by this patent provides a multi-function cleaning robot that could perform vacuum, steam cleaning, air humidifying and other operations, enabling a much greater number of work options to owners without a dramatic increase to the cost of manufacturing such a system.
Technologies for improving the work performed by a robot, this time in manufacturing settings, is disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8924016, which is titled Apparatus for Planning Path of Robot and Method Thereof. This innovation reduces the time required to plan a path for a humanoid robot to perform an operation, which is conventionally done with the use of a rapidly-exploring random tree algorithm that searches an entire space when planning a path, requiring a large number of calculations in many situations. The patent protects a method of planning a robot path by using a processor to define a shape space with a start point, a goal point and obstacle information. The processor also generates moving paths based on that information and chooses a path with a minimum operating range and minimal obstacle constraints.
Along with the efficiency improvements noted above, Samsung has also been investing in R&D activities to make humanoid robots appear and act more like humans in various situations. U.S. Patent No. 8924020, which is titled Apparatus for Controlling Robot and Control Method Thereof, claims a robot control apparatus with an image obtaining unit that obtains a 3D image of a user, a driving unit for driving a robotic arm that has a plurality of segments and a control unit that generates a user model corresponding to the joint motion of the user captured in the 3D image. This invention enables a robot to more accurately reconstruct a user motion to assume a more natural human posture by utilizing robotic arm segments with variable lengths to match the length of the user’s arm.
Robots aren’t mentioned often in U.S. Patent No. 8922619, titled Unmanned Monitoring System and Monitoring Method Using Omni-Directional Camera, but they are an important part of the implementation of that patent-protected system. The patent claims an unmanned monitoring method involving the receipt of an image representative of a 360° visual field, determining if there is the movement of an object within that image and obtaining a frontal image of a movement detection region. The unmanned monitoring system of this invention is designed so that the system is suitable for equipment with a low storage capacity, such as a robot, by utilizing only one omni-directional camera.
Intriguing Technologies for Televisions and Other Home Media Experiences
Samsung has maintained an industry-leading role in the development of televisions and other media entertainment devices. Near the beginning of October of last year, the corporation announced that it would spend $560 million on building a 700,000-square-meter facility for producing Samsung’s TVs and other consumer electronics. Samsung TVs released in 2015 will run operating software developed by Tizen to increase the software functionality of the company’s lineup of smart televisions. For example, these new Samsung smart TVs will be able to connect to PlayStation Now, a cloud video gaming service developed by Sony which allows users to play PlayStation 3 games without a PlayStation 3 console.
The use of television sets to enable video calling between parties is at the center of U.S. Patent No. 8923620, titled Broadcast Receiving Apparatus and Method for Providing Multilateral Video Communication Including User Image. The patent claims a broadcast receiving apparatus for providing a multilateral video communication that includes a position determining unit that determines the position of a user through analysis of a voice signal received through a microphone array, a detection unit identifying the face of a user in a determined position and a transmission unit for transmitting the identified face and the voice input through a network. The invention enables users to communicate with remote parties through the use of a digital TV that has a camera and an Internet connection.
We wanted to share a pair of patents related to intriguing media devices and systems that weren’t necessarily related to televisions but still could be used for home entertainment. Televisions could be involved with the implementation of the virtual reality system outlined within U.S. Patent No. 8924985, entitled Network Based Real-Time Virtual Reality Input/Output System and Method for Heterogeneous Environment. The invention is intended to effectively control inputs and outputs for virtual reality systems that are developed for use as home entertainment systems. The virtual reality input/output system claimed here includes a plurality of virtual reality data generators which generate virtual reality data and an input/output unit to transfer a request from a virtual reality application to a data generator, which returns virtual reality data to the requesting application.
Improvements to the cost-effectiveness and aesthetic qualities of electronic glasses that can render 3D images are protected by U.S. Patent No. 8922161, titled Three-Dimensional Glasses and System for Wireless Power Transmission. The patent claims 3D glasses with a resonance reception part, a rectification part that rectifies a voltage generated by the resonance reception and a charging part capable of charging a battery with the rectified voltage. This system of charging of the 3D glasses wirelessly improves on conventional charging methods that require batteries, which may be expensive to replace, or through the use of a USB cable, which can detract from the appearance of the glasses.
Enhanced Device User Interfaces for Providing Useful, Sometimes Lifesaving, Information
Samsung has attempted to make huge waves in mobile electronic device industries in the past few years, especially through the release of its line of Galaxy devices. However, losing out on billions of dollars worth of market share to upstart competitors, mainly from China, has led to a major restructuring of the corporation’s mobile division and a drastic reduction in the number of mobile device options being released in 2015 by the company. Still, the company has engaged in development of improved user interfaces and applications for these mobile products, such as the Milk Video social video watching app available for Samsung smartphones. The company’s embattled TouchWiz user interface for its touchscreen devices, which has been blamed by users for lag and performance issues, will also be replaced by an interface known as Iconix UX, which provides better vertical functioning and improved widgets.
An improved user interface for use with a range of electronic devices, from mobile touchscreen electronics to larger computing systems, is discussed within U.S. Patent No. 8917906, issued under the title Method and Apparatus for Motion Recognition. The motion recognition apparatus claimed by the patent includes an event sensor that senses a portion of an object in motion using a plurality of sensor units, a color sensor that photographs the object and outputs a color image, a motion area check unit to determine a motion area and a shape recognition unit that recognizes color and shape information of the motion area in the color image. This invention serves the need for a more intuitive user interface that provides an even more natural user interface than touchscreen displays.
We were also intrigued by a couple of patents for technologies which are intended to provide useful information to mobile device users in ways that make accessing that information much simpler for a user. A screen widget for displaying real-time traffic information to a user is at the center of U.S. Patent No. 8913984, entitled Apparatus and Method for Displaying Traffic Information Using Widgets in Mobile Terminal. The patent protects a method of displaying traffic information in a mobile terminal by receiving traffic information from a delivery system through a wireless channel, determining whether to display traffic information based on user inputs or the location of the mobile terminal; the traffic information includes road safety and traffic congestion data.
Methods of providing crucial information across mobile networks to those who may be impacted by an emergency situation is disclosed by U.S. Patent No. 8923800, which is titled Method and Apparatus for Receiving and Providing Disaster Information. The method of providing disaster information protected here involves classifying a disaster service district into a plurality of emergency zones according to a danger level, transmitting information about the emergency zones to mobile terminals located within those zones and sequentially transmitting disaster information according to the danger level of the emergency zones so that mobile terminals located in the most dangerous emergency zones are notified first. The system is also configured to forward information to mobile terminals about nearby shelters where they can escape the disaster situation.
Other Samsung Patents of Note: Genetic Engineering and Wet-Type Vacuums
We lighted on two other Samsung patents that caught our attentions enough that we felt they warranted sharing with our readers, regardless of whether they fit into any of the above areas of focus. We were surprised to see a Samsung patent issued in the field of genetic engineering, but that’s what we found in U.S. Patent No. 8921083, which is titled Modified Microorganism for High Efficient Production of 1,4-Butanediol. This invention is directed at the increased production of 1,4-butanediol, a monomer which can be converted into tetrahydrofuran, a raw material for spandex fibers. The patent claims a modified microorganism, known as Corynebacterium glutamicum, that achieves the high efficient production of 1,4-butanediol through the disruption or deletion of a gene.
Finally, we took note of some technological improvements to vacuum cleaners utilizing water for collecting and trapping dust. U.S. Patent No. 8920549, which is titled Wet-Type Dust Collector for a Vacuum Cleaner, claims a wet-type dust collector that includes a first separating portion which is filled with water and separates dust from the air which is suctioned into the portion, an exhaust pipe unit installed inside of the first separating portion and a passage unit configured to prevent water from leaking out of the first separating portion. This invention reduces the risk that water leaks within a wet-type vacuum during operation, which can cause corrosion to motor components or even overflow outside of the vacuum.