Ford Developing In-seat Heart Rate Monitor Photo:
Mike Stevens | May, 26 2011 | 0 Comments

Its production application may be some time off, but Ford is hoping that its latest project will not only improve car safety, but also help motorists stay healthy.

Developed as part of a joint project between Ford's European Research & Innovation Centre and Germany's Aachen University, an experimental new in-seat heart-rate monitor can check the occupant's ongoing condition.

The system can detect if the seat's occupant is experiencing cardiovascular problems, or even determine if a heart attack is imminent.

"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 previously unaware they had," Ford's Dr Achim Lindner said.

The system includes six unobtrusive electrodes embedded on the surface of the backrest, capable of detecting the occupant's heart rate through clothing.

"The sensors use a very specially 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 10 layers of cotton."

Stationary testing has shown that 90 to 95 percent of subjects proved compatible, and on-road testing has returned "highly accurate" readings for up to 98 percent of the time spent behind the wheel.

The team says it developed the technology as a response to the growing number of older drivers around the world, a situation which means more people are at risk of experiencing a heart-related accident while driving.

In New South Wales, RTA studies predict that, without effective countermeasures, older-driver casualy crashes may comprise around 25 to 30 percent of casualty crashes by 2025.

Internationally, statistics show that by 2050, one quarter of the population of OECD countries will be over 65 years old.

"The car is an obvious choice; it's a place where occupants spend long periods sitting in a rather calm position and a place that's increasingly less physically demanding, making it the ideal environment to measure heart activity," Aachen University's Professor Steffen Leonhardt said.

Whether the technology will prove affordable and feasable for production models remains to be seen, and any introduction to the market would likely be some years away. It is promising, however, to see carmakers taking ever-greater steps to improve safety.

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