The entire city of Wuhan, China, the origin and epicenter of the novel coronavirus, is on lockdown. But medical professionals are still hard at work fighting the disease around the clock. What’s protecting them is a wearable device that enables capturing 360-degree footage and minimizing their direct contact with patients via remote medical treatment.
G Cube, an affiliate of China’s largest wireless carrier China Mobile, recently signed a deal with Korean startup Linkflow to purchase 20,000 of their virtual reality (VR) camera FITT360 for 11 billion won. This is a prime example of how a Korean startup successfully explored overseas solutions at a time when domestic laws ban remote medical treatment.
Comprehensive patent limits competition
This product provides a 360-degree image by capturing footage through the three cameras attached to its neckband. No other company has access to this technology other than Linkflow. The first step in using FITT360 is for a person in an anti-contamination suit to wear the device and film the patient. The footage is transferred to a medical professional via 5G mobile communication network to sort out infected individuals. Currently, 10 FITT360 devices are being used for testing in Wuhan’s nearby cities. Twenty thousand units will be provided consecutively to Wuhan starting this week.
Linkflow originated from a startup fostering team dubbed “C Lab” within Samsung Electronics. Kim Yong-kuk, who headed strategic planning in Samsung Electronics’ wireless business division, won first place in the company’s internal idea contest with his device that can capture 360-degree footage. “The idea behind FITT360 first popped up during my honeymoon trip to Hawaii,” said Kim. “I wondered what technology would enable capturing such beautiful scenery in its entirety and that’s how the venture began.”
The first product was launched in late 2018, roughly two years after its spinoff from C Lab. It targeted the security market with the first generation “NEXX360.” This product has been developed into its third generation, which enables nighttime recording, face recognition and eight-hour filming. There were growing pains until the final product came out. The first issue was overheating. Action cameras favored by extreme sports fans don’t have an issue with overheating because the device is usually attached to helmets or held using a handle. But wearable cameras are different. They have direct contact with the human skin, which means temperature control is critical for comfort and safety. Kim compared the challenges of temperature control as “telling someone to run after tying up his hands and feet, while at the same time saying he can’t go short of breath.”
There were times when products that took up countless hours and effort ended in the garbage. Kim singled out camera glasses. “I realized a few steps too late that we shake our head extensively throughout the day. Footages were so blurry that not many were usable.”
Linkflow engineers introduced a new “neckband” that can be worn on the neck. A camera wrapped around the neck has many advantages. It enables the user to use both hands freely without getting in the way of the image and allows stable recording. The neckband version of FITT360 was launched July of last year. Files can be easily transmitted real-time in a 5G environment. It can deliver 4K UHD quality resolution (3840 width x 2160 length). Linkflow has 20 domestic and international patents related to FITT360 under its belt. Kim believes that a well-built patent coverage would prevent competitors from putting out similar products.
FITT360 sought out by U.S. realtors
For three consecutive years from 2018, Linkflow won the Innovation Awards at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas. This proves that the company’s innovation has been widely accepted. This year, it snatched two awards in the augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) categories with its FITT360 LIVES product.
Linkflow’s goal this year is to target the global market. It plans to sell both FITT360 and NEXX360 to China’s G Cube. The combined contract for these two products total some 25 billion won. In the U.S., real estate professionals are showing interest in FITT360. The device is useful in shooting a large square footage property that is too big for detailed inspection, the company explained. Japanese camera maker Canon is in charge of U.S. distribution. “This year, we plan to focus on diversifying our security product NEXX360,” Kim said, “We’ll be introducing the next generation of our wearable camera FITT360 toward the end of next year.”
By Suyoung Jo
<Edited by Jane Han>