Can your vehicle make you healthier?

Is it Time Your Car Gives YOU a Check-Up?


Can your vehicle make you healthier?



Post written by Gregory Thomas


Over the last five years, we have seen the automotive industry transform their original intent to produce high end “infortainment” (music, media, etc.) to applications that enhance and even save lives through the same technology.

With the advent of these smart tools and other technological devices, the possibility of performing consumer “in-field” diagnoses has grown expeditiously. These developments are converging to create an eclectic mash-up that is redefining health and wellness for today’s consumer. These possibilities come at an appropriate time during the discussion of the nation’s health programs.

So-called healthy homes, allergen-free products, and fitness/health tracker boon, are just some examples, of this convergence. “An underlying consumer demand for being in the know about one's health while on the go also continues to rise, fueling the growing number and breadth of mobile healthcare devices and health-and fitness-related software and smartphone applications hitting the market today” quoted a recent Ford press release.

Current activity of this designer/researcher/writer is focused on corporate interest and development of “in-car” applications of health and wellness problems (referred to now as “mHealth”) and potential expansion of them. In a team composed of representatives of Design and Electrical, Mechanical Computer Science Engineering projects are focused on new tools and devices that are currently beginning to edge their way into the consumer marketplace.


The hope is that these advances will produce wireless health devices that empower people with information and guidance that can directly address their most important health concerns.


Mobile technology in healthcare (mHealth) is the most rapidly growing business with large corporate entities as well as small startups entering the arena. Specific research utilizing smart technologies and tools in the car could forecast anything from a potential epileptic seizure to the rash on your face you didn’t have yesterday. Development of any products or services in mHealth is also significant for the more rural parts of the country and the ability to bring better, more accurate healthcare to patients and their doctors.

A large portion of the momentum propelling these emerging technologies should be credited to the Ford SYNC® system and its ability to connect devices via Bluetooth, access cloud-based Internet services and control smartphone aps. Ford took the lead in this automotive whitespace area, developing industry-first voice-controlled in-car connections to an array of health aids from glucose monitoring devices, diabetes management services, asthma management tools, and web-based allergen alert solutions. Most every automotive company now has on board computing and are becoming mobile “hotspots,” but Ford seems to be the most progressive regarding utilizing the car’s computing and communications components for health-related applications.


“Ford SYNC® is well known in the industry and with consumers as a successful in-car infotainment system, but we want to broaden the paradigm, transforming SYNC into a tool that can help improve people’s lives as well as the driving experience,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technology officer and vice president, Ford Research and Innovation.[1]


According to a recent survey conducted by CTIA-The Wireless Association and Harris Interactive, for example, some 78 percent of U.S. consumers expressed interest in mobile health solutions. A recent study by digital messaging powerhouse MobileStorm further confirmed this trend, indicating that medical and healthcare apps were the third fastest-growing category of smartphone applications in early 2010. The major app stores, such as the Apple App Store, are now housing upward of 17,000 available health apps for download, with nearly 60 percent of those aimed at consumers rather than healthcare professionals, reports mobile research specialist Research2Guidance.[2]


“Health and wellness provides a tremendous opportunity for Ford to provide peace of mind and a personal benefit to drivers and passengers while they are in our vehicles,” said Gary Strumolo, global manager, Interiors, Infotainment, Health & Wellness Research, Ford Research and Innovation.


Understanding the role of technology and its potential for change was one of the first interdisciplinary projects undertaken by our research. As early as 2010, the “Driving Without Distraction” Team took an analytical approach in evaluating the impacts of automakers and their attempt to “personalize” the vehicle with the intent of making driving more of an entertainment-oriented experience. In doing so, automakers have increased both the complexities and multitasking needs of the car’s driver.

With the comprehensive study of the numerous media impacts on driving, the additional aspect of designing a “smarter” dashboard console was undertaken. The purpose of the collaboration between experts in engineering, design and cognitive science was to develop a new class of “Adaptive Information Displays (AID)” that could be modified by the consumer using templates and their own personal computers.

As we looked at the different demographics, we found the young groups wanted something more “trendy” while older groups needed larger type, simplicity of information clusters and more. The objective was not to “decorate” the dashboard, but to enable the user to personally modify it and adjust the driver’s in-car experience to anticipate their needs and demands for distractive driving safety.

So what specifically will our “mHealth” project do? The goal is to establish the interoperability of health-related devices and consumer electronic products, which will facilitate the communication between patient and doctor, individual, fitness coach, or elderly person and a remote caregiver.

The core research will be in the development of a general model for mobile health monitoring innovation opportunities. A key factor in the research will also be illustrating how a few such opportunities might plausibly express themselves within a relatively short amount of time.

So how is the evolution of the mHealth car going to impact you? Imagine a steering wheel that will be able to measure your vitals due to the hand/hardware contact. Seat belts embedded with sensors that can monitor breathing, blood pressure and also calm you to prevent road rage.

Systems that monitor allergens or exterior dust/smog and provide filtered air for better breathing environments. Have the ability to send an alert via your smartwatch that your glucose is low and the probability of an oncoming diabetic coma, and more.

As sensors, apps and other smart devices continue to develop and impact the way we live, the possibility of monitoring an individual’s health while sitting in traffic is now a reality. So maybe instead of the car telling you it needs an oil change, it will be telling you its time for you to see your doctor.






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