Ford working on heart-rate monitoring seat that uses electrode technology

Ford Heart Rate Monitoring Seat

Last week, Ford Motor Company said that researching a range of possible in-car health and wellness connectivity services and apps to work with its SYNC system. The goal behind the system is to help drivers with illnesses and disorders such as diabetes, asthma or allergies manage their condition while they drive.

Ford is now taking health-care in a car to the next level with a new heart rate monitoring, which is designed to monitor your heart activity at the wheel using advanced electrode technology.

“Although currently still a research project the heart rate monitor technology developed by Ford and RWTH Aachen University could prove to be a hugely important breakthrough for Ford drivers, and not just in terms of the ability to monitor the hearts of those known to be at risk,” said Dr Achim Lindner, Ford Research Centre medical officer. As always in medicine, the earlier a condition is detected the easier it is to treat and this technology even has the potential to be instrumental in diagnosing conditions drivers were not aware they suffered.”

Ford says that it envisions linking the system with medical centers and Ford safety system to provide another layer of security for its drivers.

Hit the jump to learn more in the press release after the jump.

Press Release:

Ford Heart Rate Monitoring Seat Research Project gets Pulses Racing with its Future Potential

  • Ford’s heart rate monitoring seat is designed to monitor the heart activity of drivers at the wheel using advanced electrode technology
  • Ford envisions driver heart telemetry linking with medical centres and Ford safety systems to provide an additional layer of security for drivers and fellow road users
  • Initial testing proves the Ford heart rate monitoring seat can successfully monitor 95 per cent of drivers’ hearts 98 per cent of the time – even at an early development stage

AACHEN, Germany, May 24, 2011 – Ford engineers have developed a car seat that can monitor a driver’s heartbeat, opening the door to a wealth of health, convenience and even life-saving potential.

A joint project undertaken by experts from Ford’s European Research Centre in Aachen, Germany and Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) Aachen University has resulted in a seat that uses special sensors to monitor the driver’s heart activity.

The sensors detect the electrical impulses generated by the heart, turning them into signals which can be analysed by medical experts or computer software. This creates the potential to link to remote medical services and Ford safety systems, monitor the real time health of drivers and even warn them of imminent cardiovascular issues, for example a heart attack.

Safety potential at the heart of research

Ford engineers believe the technology they are currently developing could initially be of most benefit to drivers known to have heart conditions; primarily those in more mature age groups.

The risk of heart problems rises with age, and increasingly ageing populations create a higher proportion of drivers at risk of suffering a heart complaint at the wheel. The percentage of Europe’s population aged 65-years or older more than doubled between 1950 and 2000, from 9.1 per cent to 20.6 per cent. Predictions suggest the over 65 population will reach 22.7 per cent by 2025 and 30.3 per cent by 2050. Some European nations currently see life expectancy rise by three months each year.

The advantages potentially offered by the Ford heart rate monitoring seat in informing this increasing number of vulnerable drivers of changes in their heart’s behaviour while they’re still able to respond have not been lost on Ford’s engineers.

“The system will be able to inform if someone is having a cardiovascular issue, for example a heart attack, and could also be used to detect the symptoms of other conditions,” Lindner said. “This doesn’t only benefit the driver; the roads could be made safer for all users.”

Contactless heart monitoring for Ford drivers

The Ford heart rate monitoring seat builds on work by the university, which resulted in the development of highly sensitive monitoring equipment that allowed the tiny impulses of babies’ hearts to be monitored without intrusive and uncomfortable sensors being attached to the skin.
RWTH Aachen University Professor Steffen Leonhardt originally proposed the idea of taking the benefits of this technology to a wider audience by integrating it with the car.

“It was a natural progression from our work at RWTH Aachen University on creating contactless ECG monitoring equipment to ask where else such technology could be used to benefit other groups,” Leonhardt said.

“The car is the obvious choice; it’s a place where occupants spend long periods sitting in a rather calm position and a place that’s increasingly less physically demanding, making it the ideal environment to measure heart activity.

“With increasing life expectancy meaning higher numbers of people and therefore drivers at risk of heart diseases, the ability to monitor hearts at the wheel would offer massive benefits in terms of health and road safety, both for the user and the wider public.”

Initial testing proves highly positive

Working with RWTH Aachen University, Ford has developed a system of six sensors positioned on the surface of the seat backrest. The unobtrusive electrodes have been specially designed to be able to detect the electronic signature of the heart through clothing.

“The sensors use a very special designed system and carefully researched materials to be able to give a good signal without contact on the skin,” Lindner said.

“We are still fine tuning their operation to work with some materials; certain types of synthetic fabric and lamb’s wool can cause electrical interference that upsets the signal, but we can achieve a strong signal through ten layers of cotton wool.”

In stationary testing, 90 to 95 per cent of subjects proved to be compatible and on-road testing of the Ford heart rate monitoring seat proved it was possible to achieve highly accurate readings for up to 98 per cent of the time spent behind the wheel, even at this early stage in development.

Research project reveals masses of potential

Lindner feels the Ford heart rate monitoring seat could provide reassurance for drivers with heart conditions by transmitting the telemetry to experts, who could remotely monitor their condition.

Equally enticing for Ford’s engineers is the prospect of linking the Ford heart rate monitoring seat to existing and future technologies including the SYNC with MyFord Touch system due to arrive in Europe in 2012. SYNC’s connectivity potential could allow the transmission of telemetry through connected mobile phones, potentially even combining with the advanced Emergency Assistance function to provide ECG telemetry from before, during or after an accident to emergency services.

It’s possible that Ford’s heart rate monitoring seat might also link to technologies such as Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keeping Aid, Active City Stop, Driver Alert and Speed Limiter to mitigate the consequences of a driver losing control because of a heart episode.

– By: Omar Rana