A New Twist on Smart Cars: Putting a Medical Monitor on Your Dashboard

Capitalizing on Americans’ interest in health and wellness, automakers are looking at medical technology as the next option that may interest new car buyers. Auto manufacturers are developing on-board applications that can monitor blood glucose levels or cardiac rhythms, check high pollen levels, ease a driver’s stress level, and warn of dangerous conditions that can put the driver at risk. For car buyers who are concerned that fluctuations in their health may affect their ability to drive safely, there may be an app for that.

On average, roughly 78 percent of consumers say they are interested in mobile health applications, forming a ready-made market for health-related apps in the car. The average driver spends one week a year behind the wheel—and that’s expected to increase. With 26 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes, Ford is looking at offering an optional glucose monitor mounted on the dashboard that would check a diabetic’s blood glucose level and warn of a drop in blood sugar or the threat of insulin shock. Driver safety could be improved—hopefully, accompanied by a decrease in insurance costs.

Thinking beyond diabetes, Ford has also developed a car seat that can check the driver’s heart rate and warn of an irregular rhythm. Other applications will track breathing patterns for asthmatics or pollen counts for allergy sufferers, possibly automatically closing the car windows and activating the air recirculation system if the pollen count crosses a preset threshold. Applications that sense the driver’s stress level could change the music in the car to something more soothing or intercept a phone call and send it directly to voicemail.

Ford is working with WellDoc, a developer of software-based health management tools, to build a prototype. The diabetes application combines Ford’s Sync system, which transmits data via Bluetooth and downloads information from cloud services, with Medtronic’s continuous glucose monitor. A Bluetooth connection transmits blood-sugar levels from the monitor to the dashboard. Ford is also working with a German university to develop a seat equipped with six sensors that detect electrical impulses from the driver’s heart. Data from the sensors would warn the driver of heart problems. For allergy applications, Ford’s partner is SDI Health, creators of www.pollen.com. Using pollen count data, the car’s navigation system would close the windows and activate air recirculation.

None of these applications is available yet, but Ford believes it’s only a matter of time until these cars are on the lot. Allergy applications may be available within a year. Blood glucose monitoring applications are expected in three to five years.

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