i3 - November/December 2019 - 27

ensing
in cars
BY ROBERT E. CALEM
ILLUSTRATION BY PETER GRUNDY

T

C TA . t e c h / i 3

o enable future self-driving cars and today's
advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS),
automakers have been outfitting vehicles with a
growing set of sensors as well as embedded cloudconnectivity. Now, another use is emerging
for these technologies: detecting
the health and wellness of the
vehicle's occupants - both
during an uneventful ride or
after a major crash.
Health sensing in cars
is not a new notion. In
the past decade, automakers including Ford
showed off concepts
ranging from a heart rate
sensing car seat to a
blood pressure-monitoring steering wheel. But
those ideas were never
produced due to cost and
other factors. So, entrepreneurs turned their
attention to finding a
more easily implemented
alternative, and at least
one such invention could
be in production as soon
as next year.

Liberating Data to Make Money

In 2011, BMW Group collaborated
with the Technical University of
Munich (TUM) to develop a steering
wheel capable of measuring heart rate,
blood oxygen level and stress level.
Also in 2011, Ford announced it
was working on a car seat with six
embedded sensors to detect a person's
heart rate, plus Bluetooth tie-ups
between its SYNC telematics system
and brought-in glucose monitors.
Four years later, it dropped the car
seat project and pivoted toward integrating wearables brought in to the
car for health and wellness tracking.
By 2016, Ford's new Automotive
Wearables Experience laboratory at its
Research and Innovation Center in
Dearborn, MI, was seeking to link a
heart-rate sensor in a smartwatch to a
vehicle's adaptive cruise control system. Thus, if a driver's heart rate sped
up with a change in traffic conditions,
the vehicle could automatically
increase its distance to the car ahead,
the company explained at the time.
Automakers' experimentation
with biometric sensors directly put
inside vehicles has faded from the
forefront, says Sam Abuelsamid,
principal analyst at Navigant
Research in Detroit. And there are
three primary reasons, he says: cost,
dependability and regulation.
"We're already getting into an
affordability crunch with new vehicles.
It's harder and harder for people to
afford them, which makes it a real challenge to add more technology like this,"
Abuelsamid says. "In addition, what
may be a bigger factor is making these
systems reliable enough" that they
don't give a false positive indicating a
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019

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i3 - November/December 2019

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