In a very short time, after the wristwatch or mobile phone detects when we have woken up, they will order the coffee machine to start up. The wardrobe will select the right clothes according to the agenda and the weather forecast. The electric car will be charged during the night in a wireless device, the refrigerator will show us the tasks of the day and prepare the shopping list. When leaving the house, the vehicle will select the most efficient itinerary and will drive almost autonomously while the automatic vacuum cleaner sweeps the floor, the oven is programmed and the air conditioning units adapt to the absence of the family and prepare to have everything ready for the return. In this immediate future, Samsung, the leading technology company in South Korea, is working. To anticipate, our own cities in Seoul and centers in other parts of the world are now developing the devices that we will soon have. The company has invited a small group of European media, including EL PAÍS, to visit its research, development and manufacturing networks.
It is very difficult to find a person, home or business in the world without something from Samsung. Sell 42,000 mobile phones per hour and monopolizes 21% of the market, according to the company and the consultant Gatner. Most electronic devices, including those from Apple (Samsung's main competition), or LED bulbs include semiconductors from the Korean firm (which has displaced Intel from the first place in this sector). Almost half of the televisions carry the logo of the company.
After this empire, born of a food and textile company in 1938 and in one of the poorest countries in the world, 320,671 workers are now distributed by 73 nations and 11,680 million euros invested last year in research that have generated 194,512 million euros in revenue. In Spain alone, the after-tax profit amounted to 29.09 million (8.1% more than the previous year). South Korea is today among the 15 richest countries on the planet.
One third of Samsung's employees in the world work in the four technological cities of the headquarters of the chaebol (denomination of the model of the Korean business conglomerate that includes, in addition to the technological complex, from hotels to advertising agencies, construction companies or insurance companies, among dozens of companies). More than half a thousand shuttle buses, an immense tangle of public transport and a network of highways with infernal traffic permanently take workers to their posts. There is almost no noise, apart from that produced by the machines that build the new buildings of the complex. The spaces are untouched.
In the cities they have sports centers, gyms, specialized libraries, parks, nurseries, clinics, restaurants, supermarkets, bicycle services and everything necessary to keep the plants active 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The National Assembly of South Korea approved in March a law that reduces the maximum number of working hours per week from 69 to 52 (40 fixed and 12 extras by agreement between the parties). The employees, undefined by 65%, enjoy 15 days of annual leave that increase by five after 10 years of work. The minimum salary for 2019 has been set at 8,350 won (6.42 euros) per hour.
Suwon houses the oldest of the campuses. It was created in 1969, when the conglomerate, at the request of President Park Chung-hee, diversifies into the electronic components sector. The city does not reflect his age. Entire neighborhoods of new glass buildings house the main center for research and development, automation and robotics.
In Suwon is also one of the key pieces of Samsung after the crisis generated by the failures in the batteries of the Galaxy Note 7, which forced to return almost three million units. Since then, the quality testing laboratories of this complex have redoubled their efforts. Hundreds of machines subject Samsung products to a thousand tests of resistance in all critical parameters, from falls to immersion in liquids, extreme temperatures or the effect of sitting on the mobile. In the same center, the cameras are subjected to light tests and scenarios and microphones, speakers and headphones are tested in dozens of situations to ensure proper operation.
"Farther than the human eye"
On this campus develops what in the words of its engineers is one of the most important components of mobile phones: cameras. Samsung has just presented the only phone with five of them. "You can not grow indefinitely without compromising portability, but we will continue to listen to users to combine learning to go further than the human eye. That's the goal, "says Joshua Cho, vice president of the Audiovisual group.
Will be the following steps after having responded to the demands of customers who have claimed, from the first phones, more resolution, more screen, more reach, more usability, new designs and less battery consumption, something that has been improved with technology OLED (organic light emitting diode).
The other great challenge in which they work is the folding screen, which will allow more visual space without sacrificing the portability of the device. This line was confirmed by the president of the company, Dong-Jin Koh, and has been ratified in Seoul by the vice president of the research group Byung Duk Yang. This executive believes that this advance responds to the demand of users, who demand a mobile phone that adapts to its use as a telephone and is deployed for other reading or vision applications that require more viewing space.
A few kilometers from Suwon, 45,000 workers occupy Giheung, another of Samsung's four technology cities in Korea and where the company's most profitable product line is manufactured: semiconductors. In an isolated and sterilized plant, where the few engineers pass through dressed as if they were facing biological warfare, dozens of robotic production lines convert the silvery cone of the silicon ingots into the semiconductors with which millions of microchips are made, memories and components for LED lights. Each chip consists of between 32 and 64 layers that make up the brains of the devices.
Security control even of papers
Strict security measures guarantee the secrecy of production systems. Access guards can check from the trunk to the papers, in case you try to shuffle a microcomponent between the sheets. Each of the 17 production lines (18 is currently being built) has half a thousand workers. Each line has taken an average of two years to get up and has involved investments of between 10,000 and 22,000 million euros. Of the thousands and thousands of components that leave each day of the manufacturing lines, according to the company, an efficiency level of more than 80% has been achieved, one of the keys to the profitability of the semiconductor plants of this giant, become the first manufacturer of this type of components in the world.
While the workers are ready to enjoy the time they have to eat in one of the gigantic dining rooms, with half a dozen different cuisines, Justin Cow works in the Internet of Things laboratory, a recreated apartment as a regular home where they are monitored through six cameras how users interrelate with interconnected appliances. The refrigerator, considered the heart of the home, can turn on the oven, order the sweep of the room, leave messages, turn on the air conditioning ... All appliances can respond to voice commands. "Every week and a half a different test is done," explains Cow.
The cinema that is coming
A few meters away, a peculiar cinema with all the lights on projects a film without losing a bit of image quality on a screen 10 meters long by four wide. It's about the technology that has already been premiered in Switzerland, announced in France and expected to arrive in Spain next year. The application of LED systems wants to revolutionize the world of cinema, radically changing the viewer's experience in a more versatile environment than the usual dark room.
While Samsung completes the devices that are already or will soon come to our lives, their technicians work in the development of new ones and in the improvement of existing ones. The world that the Korean giant imagines and wants to continue as a final manufacturer of the devices or its components will have drones for all human activities, healthcare technology in person or remotely (like the medical mirror), unlimited memories, wireless chargers for all types of machines (including vehicles), computers capable of computing billions of billions of information per second (exascale computing), biometric identification (from the face or the iris), holographic screens, new generations of batteries, neuromorphic engineering (that mimics the human nervous architecture), contact lenses that display information or watches that project the touch screen on the wrist.
"We are facing an evident change in the technological paradigm that will change the daily life of people and organizations, whether public or private. These are exciting times in which artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (or "intelligent things" as we call them internally) or the new generation of 5G telecommunications will bring us services, experiences and entertainment never seen before, in a simple way. , safe and with respect for the privacy of all, "concludes Hoon Chung, responsible for Samsung Electronics Iberia in the company's annual report.