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Let's Get Physical? A Doctor In Your Dashboard

By raccars Published

Never mind getting from A to B, modern cars are constantly finding ways to justify their presence in our lives. The latest innovation is integrated health monitoring, app-based health programmes, designed to act as some kind of digital doctor in your dashboard.

While the concept is still in its infancy, it's an idea that could easily grow legs. Ford's latest Fiesta is endowed with a voice-activated infotainment system, called SYNC. This most up-to-date auto technology enables drivers to control smartphone applications hands-free, with details coming up on a dashboard mounted LED screen. Of such applications, numerous are based on healthcare, which is the third fastest growing category of application. There are already more than 17,000 healthcare apps available, with the market due to be valued at almost £250 million and 500 million users by 2015.

SYNC's first specific healthcare app arrived last year, issuing alerts for air pollution, asthma and pollen counts. Ford has been careful not to fall foul of US FDA regulations, claiming the app stops short of dispensing medical advice and is strictly for monitoring purposes. However, auto industry research suggests that time spent driving could be exploited, to monitor health in an ageing and increasingly unhealthy population.

Ford has already done research with a specially adapted driver's seat, to measure cardiovascular activity behind the wheel. The results indicate that car accidents increase by 23% for drivers affected by cardiovascular disease. The company's research team claims its seat could be useful, not only for measuring purposes, but could even be used as a diagnostic tool, effectively measuring the cardiovascular performance of 95% of drivers.

Similarly, BMW has been working with the Munich Technical University, to develop a steering wheel measuring drivers' pulse rates, blood oxygen levels and perspiration. The data collected can be displayed on a car's infotainment display, but so far, project co-ordinators have stressed that the information should be used for monitoring, rather than analysis. Auto manufacturers are not planning to install technology that will warn of impending heart attacks or other serious health issues.

However, neither the heart-monitoring driver's seat nor the BMW/TUM steering wheel are due to go into production any time soon. While the technology lacks sophistication at the moment, its proponents hope it could be used to make roads safer, both for drivers and pedestrians and allow older drivers or those with health problems to keep their place behind the wheel for longer.

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