Samsung is a household name in India but not many are aware that it has also carried out research and development activities in the country. The company even has the largest mobile factory in the world, operating in India since July 2018. The research and development department in India is just as well established. This work takes place under the direction of Dipesh Shah, General Manager of the Samsung R & D Institute India-Bangalore (SRI-B).
Shah started his journey at Samsung in 1996. He joined the company as the first R&D employee in India. The 50-year-old engineer initially worked on solutions, including telephone operator software, that could help companies set up call centers by connecting their PCs to a private branch exchange (PBX). Today the research and development center was involved in the development of products like Samsung’s AI assistant Bixby, with whom he plans to compete against Alexa and Siri.
Over time, Shah, along with other engineers and researchers, has developed the SRI-B as a key resource for Samsung to develop newer experiences with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G.
The R&D center, set up as a small office in February 2016 and currently spanning over six square meters, was also the center for product delivery, including a system-wide function called AltZLife that focused on data protection focused introduced on the Galaxy A51 and Galaxy A71 last year. It’s also where Samsung can improve Bixby’s voice intelligence and make it a compelling assistant against Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri.
“As we stand here after 25 years, we think the next five years will be even more exciting as a lot of things are going to happen in India,” said Shah Gadgets 360 over the phone. “The lifestyle of consumers is changing, new technology trends, new infrastructures, AI-ML, cloud and 5G are coming to our country soon. We call this phase “Powering Digital India” by refreshing our research and development. “
Samsung’s Bengaluru research and development center is one of 30 research and development centers worldwide. However, it aims in particular to develop solutions for four areas: wireless communication, image processing, AI in image, speech and text technologies, and IoT.
Shah spoke to Gadgets 360 for over half an hour to explain Samsung’s expansion over the past 25 years and his experience as the country’s first R&D operator. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How has Samsung advanced its research and development efforts in India over the past 25 years?
When I look back in the past, there are four different phases of our software-based research and development in India. The first phase was between 1996 and 2000 when we hired talented Indian engineers and had them run by global project or technical directors in South Korea. The local service ecosystem also helped us very aptly. Our key partners at the time helped us quickly scale our projects on a global scale. This was followed by a phase between 2000 and 2012 that we refer to as the solution-oriented R&D phase. It was the time when many of the world’s first solutions were developed out of Bengaluru. For example, Samsung from Bengaluru developed the Voice-over-LTE technology that Jio made available in its network. We started research and development in the mobile field in Bengaluru back in 2000. Then came what we called the Reconstruction Phase. It came between 2012 and 2015. During those three years we transformed the team known as Samsung India Software Operations into a full-fledged research center. It originated in 2012 as Samsung Research India, Bangalore. As of 2015, for the last five years since I ran the center, we call it the advanced phase of the research and development center, where we built a center of excellence in wireless communication and image processing, AI and IoT.
What added value has India brought Samsung on its journey so far?
I can humbly say that India played a very important role in Samsung’s research and development. This is also the reason why the company has the SRI-B as the largest software research and development center in the country. When you go for a Galaxy smartphone and look at the camera, so much image processing technology has been provided by the Bengaluru center. The speech recognition in English on Bixby was also developed out of Bengaluru. A significant portion of Samsung’s SmartThings app was also built locally.
Filing a patent has been a trend in Samsung’s research and development centers. Is it just to expand the company’s presence in the world of design and innovation, or is it to help researchers protect the intellectual property rights in their developments?
We have about 3,000 patents only filed by our Indian engineers between three research and development centers. So there is a rhythm that you have to set in the company for the creation of intellectual property. It’s not like a software development lifecycle. You need a separate process for generating ideas and filtering intersections. Rather, it is a research skill that we need to strengthen patent cultures. And not only established companies, but also students should deal with intellectual property during their studies. There we make our part of the next trip.
Is the patent application process in India challenging for global markets?
Never have I ever heard processes escalate that are delayed. So it looks well oiled. You just need the right people and talents in the company who understand and guide you through the process.
What are some of the most notable patents filed by Samsung researchers in India?
There are a lot of them. But some patents are so close to my heart. One of them was linked to our mobile tracker technology back in 1996. If you lost your mobile phone and someone took it and replaced the SIM card, the technology caused the system to send an automatically generated SMS message to your registered number stating your mobile phone is currently running on that particular SIM Card used. This helped track several cell phones around the country. The last time you go to your Samsung phone’s gallery, we will automatically organize pictures. That way you can see all the faces in your photos when searching for people. This technology was also patented by the Bengaluru team. There are also several patents covering battery life, voice over LTE, and wireless communications.
What makes India a place to go for companies like Samsung to build new AI and ML systems?
I am very confident that India is excelling in terms of AI and ML for four reasons. One is that it’s basically math and Indian engineers were pretty good at math. Second, it is necessary to request the correct amount of data in order to train your machine learning models. You will receive suitable data in the country to train your AI models if you work in the right company and have the right processes. Third is the fact that a lot of AI is open source, which means that whether you are based in Silicon Valley or Bengaluru, you will have equal access to both model and information technology. The fourth point is the focus of large companies to develop their AI skills in India.
I’ve seen a lot of large wigs move from one company to another in a couple of years. Why did you stay with Samsung for 25 years?
One word is excitement because I’ve experienced several things in the same company. I think it’s the first experience that tied me to Samsung forever. When I first went to South Korea, I only had two years of experience in India. For the first three months I wrote our device driver software. A French company also supplied driver software with its own chip. But somehow my software worked better with this chip and my boss trusted it and decided on the one developed by the French company. This confidence in two years of experience says a lot. We’re also running a rescaling program for all of our engineers so they can learn computer science from the basics. The focus on talent development and investing in talent development are the reasons that kept me here and may stay for years to come.
What are the major developments currently taking place at the Bengaluru Research and Development Center?
When you dissolve the AI, you get vision AI and speech technology. Vision AI is intended to help you understand the world around you with your camera – and not just capture it. This is the vision technology we’re working on. The other evolution is that you can use the full power of your phone. The current limitation is the user interface. It’s hierarchical, menu-based. You have to go three to four levels deep inside to access some features. The voice interface in the phone thus breaks the menu hierarchy of the user interface. We also have Galaxy Intelligence. You can already enter a one-time password (OTP) seamlessly using the keyboard area without having to access the SMS application. Our future focus will be on creating new experiences where multiple devices communicate with each other to make your life more automated and easier so that you can focus more on creative things.
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