[SR Talks] ③ Interview with a Sensor Researcher at Samsung R&D Institute Japan-Osaka

Q: Can you briefly introduce yourself, the Samsung R&D Institute Japan-Osaka, and the kind of work that happens there? What project are you working on?

Samsung R&D Institute Japan-Osaka (SRJ-O) is a branch of Samsung R&D Institute Japan, and it was established in Osaka in 2002. SRJ-O develops elemental technologies for various products, such as air-conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, kitchen appliances, robot vacuum cleaners, and many more. The company aims to develop technologies for products that are the “world’s best” and “world’s first,” as well as create differentiated products that no other company can compete with. In Japan, there is a lot of knowledge in the development of analog elements, such as structure and components for home appliances, and many engineers with these technologies are active in this field.

I am Ritsuya Yamamoto from the Core Parts Lab, where additional functions for home appliances are developed. Among the members, I am the Project Leader for sensor technology and in charge of developing new functions for sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), structure, and control. Sensors are an important component of any product as they are the equivalent of human sensory organs, such as the eyes, nose, and skin for machines, and are innovative components for automation and higher performance. However, in the field of home appliances, cost constraints are so severe that it is impossible to incorporate highly functional sensors or a large number of sensors in a product. Thus, we strive to realize inexpensive, high-performance detection technology by combining sensor and mechanism development technology, which is Japan’s strong point, with AI and other technologies. Moreover, based on the technology we develop, we aim to provide new experiences to users and solve problems that have not been realized yet.

Q: What is the significance of your research field or technology?

We regard sensor technology as the foundation of everything we do and as something that opens up a world of possibilities. For example, it is difficult for many people to reach a destination with their eyes closed, and the same is true for machines, as it would be difficult to achieve anything even slightly complicated without sensors. In addition, home appliances have become more and more intelligent, and not only Samsung but also various creators have introduced additional functions, such as remote control/checking from a smartphone or automatic linkage with recipes. To realize such functions, it is necessary to detect the state of the appliance, for example, a sensor to detect the contents of the refrigerator, or a sensor to detect the temperature of the food being cooked.

In most situations, sensor information cannot be utilized in products as is, and algorithms are needed to analyze it to obtain the necessary information. Recent advances in AI research and technology have made it possible to run complex and advanced algorithms on edge devices, but it is sometimes difficult to secure sufficient computing resources in home appliances. Even in such cases, we develop technologies to optimize the algorithms by combining classical image / signal processing methods with AI while also considering the physical characteristics of the sensor.

We are also developing technologies to enable the detection of previously undetectable items by utilizing mechanisms and controls. There are places where the temperature is high, such as cooking equipment, and there are places where the temperature is low, such as refrigerators. Thus, we are considering how to install sensors in these locations from both the structural and algorithmic aspects. In the development of sensor technology, various technological elements such as algorithms, structures, and circuits are necessary, and I am working on the development of the optimal method while integrating these elements.

In the future, home appliances are expected to become more sophisticated, connected to various things, and further automated. In addition, the integration of digital technologies such as digital transformation (DX) and metaverse will be necessary. By pursuing the sensor technology that supports the evolution of home appliances, we would like to realize functions that enable new experiences for users.

Q: What is the biggest achievement or the most rewarding moment in your research or as of this episode?

Our research field is related to algorithm development that combines AI and mechanism/control, and at SRJ-O, we are developing a wide range of technologies and products for various consumer electronics. Each product has necessary functions and users’ pain points. Thus, the key point of our research is how to analyze them and link them to innovative functions and user benefits. In Japan, there are many universities that possess excellent technologies related to sensors and AI, and we are aggressively utilizing collaborations with such universities. We are also actively incorporating research results from different fields other than home appliances to achieve better functionality by integrating technologies from multiple fields. Moreover, SRJ-O brings together various experts in home appliances. It is very stimulating to see the fusion of circuitry, structure, thermal fluidics, and other technologies that I do not possess, resulting in better products, and I believe this is one of the strong points of SRJ-O.

As part of our published results, we have applied for a patent for research on cooking appliances. The patent is for a control algorithm for “delicious” automatic cooking in cooking appliances. In developing this, it was necessary to utilize not only multiple sensor information but also various technologies, such as the elucidation of cooking mechanisms and heating control algorithms. Based on the results of the analysis of the cooking mechanism, we have proposed a method to control the internal temperature rise of the food. In the development, we considered various methods, including the application of machine learning to the control method, but by clarifying several critical parameters in cooking, we were able to integrate the method with conventional methods in a very simple way by estimating these parameters from the information on the food ingredients. Thus, we need to develop for complex situations, and our major mission is to maximize the value of home appliances by optimizing the use of various technologies.

Q: What is your vision for the future and the goal you want to achieve?

The vision of SRJ-O is to become the “world’s best home appliance laboratory.” To achieve this goal, we must continue to develop elemental technologies for the incoming future by fusing Japan’s accumulated knowledge in home appliances with new technologies. In addition, home appliances must keep up with new trends, such as the metaverse. In any case, the first thing we must consider is user merit and new experiences. We will continue to develop while always thinking about what our technologies can do and what kind of experience they can provide.

Whatever direction home appliances evolve in the future, we believe that sensor technology will remain important. On the other hand, home appliances come in a wide variety of types and functions, and it is difficult to differentiate them with simple sensor and AI technologies alone, so it is essential to integrate technologies from a variety of fields. Therefore, we will continue to actively incorporate technologies from different fields without limiting our scope. By utilizing those technologies, we will develop technologies that can contribute to keeping Samsung running at the top of the world.

We have been acquiring new technology through collaboration with various universities over the past several years, and SRJ-O has an environment that allows us to proactively collaborate with universities on necessary technology. Thus, I will continue to make use of this environment to enhance the technologies I am deepening and expanding while striving to contribute to the business. I will also continue to enhance the technologies while striving to contribute to the business.