Ford Working on A Car Seat That Monitors Drivers’ Heart

Posted by at 2:47 pm on May 26, 2011

Ford engineers have developed a car seat that can monitor a driver’s heartbeat.

A joint project undertaken by experts from Ford’s European Research Centre in Aachen, Germany and Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) Aachen University has resulted in a seat that uses special sensors to monitor the driver’s heart activity.

The sensors detect the electrical impulses generated by the heart, turning them into signals which can be analysed by medical experts or computer software. This creates the potential to link to remote medical services and Ford safety systems, monitor the real time health of drivers and even warn them of imminent cardiovascular issues, for example a heart attack.

“Although currently still a research project the heart rate monitor technology developed by Ford and RWTH Aachen University could prove to be a hugely important breakthrough for Ford drivers, and not just in terms of the ability to monitor the hearts of those known to be at risk,” said Dr Achim Lindner, Ford Research Centre medical officer.

“As always in medicine, the earlier a condition is detected the easier it is to treat and this technology even has the potential to be instrumental in diagnosing conditions drivers were not aware they suffered.”

Safety Potential

The advantages potentially offered by the Ford heart rate monitoring seat in informing this increasing number of vulnerable drivers of changes in their heart’s behaviour while they’re still able to respond have not been lost on Ford’s engineers.

“The system will be able to inform if someone is having a cardiovascular issue, for example a heart attack, and could also be used to detect the symptoms of other conditions,” Lindner said. “This doesn’t only benefit the driver; the roads could be made safer for all users.”

Initial Testing Very Positive

Working with RWTH Aachen University, Ford has developed a system of six sensors positioned on the surface of the seat backrest. The unobtrusive electrodes have been specially designed to be able to detect the electronic signature of the heart through clothing.

“The sensors use a very special designed system and carefully researched materials to be able to give a good signal without contact on the skin,” Lindner said.

“We are still fine tuning their operation to work with some materials; certain types of synthetic fabric and lamb’s wool can cause electrical interference that upsets the signal, but we can achieve a strong signal through ten layers of cotton wool.”

In stationary testing, 90 to 95 per cent of subjects proved to be compatible and on-road testing of the Ford heart rate monitoring seat proved it was possible to achieve highly accurate readings for up to 98 per cent of the time spent behind the wheel, even at this early stage in development.

SYNC and MyFord Touch Could Play a Part

Lindner feels the Ford heart rate monitoring seat could provide reassurance for drivers with heart conditions by transmitting the telemetry to experts, who could remotely monitor their condition.

Equally enticing for Ford’s engineers is the prospect of linking the Ford heart rate monitoring seat to existing and future technologies including the SYNC with MyFord Touch system due to arrive in Europe in 2012. SYNC’s connectivity potential could allow the transmission of telemetry through connected mobile phones, potentially even combining with the advanced Emergency Assistance function to provide ECG telemetry from before, during or after an accident to emergency services.

It’s possible that Ford’s heart rate monitoring seat might also link to technologies such as Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keeping Aid, Active City Stop, Driver Alert and Speed Limiter to mitigate the consequences of a driver losing control because of a heart episode.

Heart Health Facts

  • It is a misconception that heart attacks are always accompanied by severe chest pain; some victims suffer no pain at all and an American study found that a third of people who suffered a heart attack did not call an ambulance (UK National Health Service)
  • Across the EU in 2008, men were nearly twice as likely to die from a heart attack as women (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and European Commission)
  • More than one quarter of the world’s adult population suffered from high blood pressure at the beginning of the 21st century. That figure is expected to have increased by 60 per cent by 2025 (European Union Public Health Information System)
  • Diseases of the heart accounted for 40 per cent of all deaths inside the European Union in 2008 (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and European Commission)



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