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Getting Your Car to Know You

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The automobile could be the next health sensor.

design, health, automobileA “check engine” light is common to all new cars, but future vehicles may light up warnings about your body’s own motor. An experimental Mini Cooper in the works at the University of Southern California may be able to measure a driver’s quickening pulse, heart rhythm and more.

Nicknamed Nigel, the Mini is equipped with 230 sensors and an app that logs driver habits. Developed in conjunction with BMW, the Center for Body Computing and the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the project points to new ways to monitor driver health as well as behavior. The technology resulted from combining narrative and filmmaking techniques, automotive sensors and “lifelog” methods:

• A lifelog collects continuous data from a person, pulling information from the sensors a person is wearing or touching.
• Narrative and storytelling techniques help create a sort of script. The system reports lifelog data back to a driver in the form of a story (like telling you that you’ve been at this fast-food restaurant before, or you have the heater on while your windows are down).
• Reports can be specific to a driver, or accumulate the experience of several drivers.

Think of it as car meets smartphone.

There are about 5 million apps for the Apple iPhone and other handheld devices; more than 44,000 of them are devoted to health. Many health care experts suggest that these apps are putting more health care decisions into the hands of patients, enabling them to gather more health information not only from the Internet but also from their own bodies. Many apps monitor heartbeat, detect arrhythmias and conduct ultrasound scans; still more may remotely measure blood sugar and other functions.

BMW isn’t the only car company looking at the role of sensors. Ford Motor Company also is developing a car that has six heartbeat sensors embedded in the seatback. The company is now testing to see if they can get reliable data, and to see if other health sensors are possible candidates for going along for the ride.

While Ford’s focus is solely on health monitors in cars, BMW and USC are looking at how this monitoring can be part of the overall driving experience. Currently, the project involves only meters and sensors that are already in production models of the car. But the project leaders are looking at more apps and sensors to provide even more measurements from just touching the steering wheel, car seat and, yes, the accelerator pedal. The shift of medical devices’ move from analog to digital — which has already occurred in automobiles that monitor engine performance and provide navigation help — will deliver more data power into the hands of the driver.

Sources: Fast Company, Ford

Photo: DeviantArt

future of auto industry, health cars, bmw safety

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