DETROIT: AUTO COMPANY Ford showed off the most recent version of an in-car research project on Monday that uses health monitoring technology to detect and alert drivers when their stress levels are too high.
Ford research and advanced engineering executive Saeed Barbat spoke with The INQUIRER during our time at its test track in Detroit before the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). He revealed that the firm is looking to integrate the Biometric Seat prototype into its in-car communication system, Sync, within five years.
In a bid to reduce accidents, Biometric Seat monitors drivers' breathing rate per via a tiny sensor built into the lap portion of the seat belt. This is along with two capacitive sensors on the steering wheel that measure heart rate as well as infrared sensors also on the steering wheel that gauge face temperature and sensors for skin temperature compared to the temperature outside.
Overall, these measurements of the driver's physiology and condition detect the level of driver stress and if he or she is too tense to concentrate fully on the road. The Biometric Seat can then act on this by limiting the car's speed, giving the driver a warning and blocking incoming calls to the driver's mobile phone to help prevent any potential accidents.
"If the car detects you are too distressed to drive it will give you a warning," Barbat explained. "If you choose to ignore this and your stress level exceeds the next level, it will give you a second warning. If you ignore that, we could programme [Biometric Seat] to dial 911."
However, the Biometric Seat is still in early stages of development and there are many hurdles Ford must overcome before we will see it in vehicles. For example, at the moment the wheel detects the driver's heart rate through two touch sensitive capacitors on the left and right side of the wheel. However, Barbat explained that during testing, it has become apparent that these sensors will need to cover the whole wheel as not everyone drives holding the steering wheel in the same place.
"But covering the wheel with these sensors would be too expensive," Barbat said. "We would have to look at alternative, much less expensive methods of detecting heart rate, such as a possible sensor that is built into the chair and measures your heart rate through your back."
When we inquired as to how long it will be before we see this sort of technology integrated into cars, Barbat said it's definitely going to be "higher than five years or around that time" due to the amount of research that still needs to be done to make it cost effective.
"We are in the process of looking at something that is more feasible, Barbat said. "We know we can do it. It's actually our most advanced technology, but it has to be affordable." µ