The Galaxy S3, cameras and chips: Samsung's Israeli R&D work revealed

The South Korean tech giant has two R&D centres in Israel – and their work can currently be seen on Samsung's flagship Galaxy smartphone.
Written by David Shamah, Contributor

Not that it was exactly a secret, but it turns out that Samsung has a major research and development stake in Israel.

Two of the 18 R&D centres Samsung has outside its South Korean homeland are based in Israel. One facility, in Herzliya, works on camera technology, and the other, in Ramat Gan, develops semiconductor tech.

The Israel R&D facilities were behind most of the tech that went into the camera on Samsung's flagship Galaxy S3 device, and the new Samsung EX2F smart camera.

Samsung's work in Israel was unveiled by Dr Nam-Sung (Stephen) Woo, president of the System LSI Business in Samsung's Device Solutions unit, at the annual conference of Israel's High-Tech Industry Association (HTIA). While Woo, and presumably other Samsung top execs, have been in Israel before, it was the first time that he, or anyone from the company, had discussed the company's Israeli connection in public.

Dr Nam-Sung Woo on stage at HTIA. Image: HTIA

Samsung got its start in Israel in 2007, when it purchased a company called Transchip Israel, which developed sensors for smartphone cameras. The Transchip lab became Samsung's Israel telecom R&D centre, which developed the 16.3-megapixel BSI CMOS image sensors that are at the heart of the S3 and EX2F. Now, some 150 people work for Samsung Israel on its camera technology.

In fact, much of the software controlling the camera's capabilities was also developed in Israel, said Dr Yiwan Wong, of Samsung's System LSI Business. "All of the camera's processing technology, the wiping and other special effects, were done in Israel," he said on the sidelines of an HTIA session.

In an interview, Amit Baruch, director of the Ramat Gan centre, said that "our technology is installed on hundreds of millions of smartphones, laptops, digital cameras, and tablets for companies around the world". Samsung appreciates Israel, he said, which is one reason it gave the team here the opportunity to develop its next-generation camera. Over the past three years, the Israel team has been responsible for about 80 Samsung patents, according to Baruch.

On the chip front, Samsung's semiconductor R&D facility has contributed greatly to Samsung's Exynos chips, including its new Exynos 5 32 nanometer (nm) dual-core processors. The Exynos 5 runs faster and cooler than previous editions of the chip, and is set to be the centrepiece of the next generation of Samsung mobile devices. Work on the chip was done both in Israel and South Korea, and the Samsung teams are hard at work on the next milestone, 14nm chips, Woo said at that the HTIA conference.

About 50 people work in the microprocessor facility, taking Samsung's total headcount in Israel to around 200.

Asia in Israel

Samsung is not the only Asian tech giant with a significant presence in the country: unlike most multinationals with one or two R&D facilities here, LG contracts with 10 Israeli tech start-ups in a variety of areas, according to a report in business daily Calcalist. LG has had a presence in Israel, albeit in a fairly low-key fashion, for over 13 years.

And in a speech at HTIA, Allen Lew, chief executive of Singaporean telco SingTel's new Digital Life unit, said that the company was planning to use a portion of its new Innov8 venture capital fund to buy Israeli start-ups – as it did last year, when it purchased Israeli mobile advertising company Amobee for $321m.

As Asian companies become more comfortable with their relationship with Israel, we're likely to see more of these investments in the country.

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