Warning in your car may be about you

Health apps could monitor the driver's heart and more

Health information, such as blood sugar, is available on smartphone apps. It also can be displayed on center-stack screens.

DETROIT -- As far as the auto industry is concerned, "wearables" such as Google Glass or the iWatch seemed like inventions in search of a mission.

But that may change. Gary Strumolo, Ford Motor Co.'s manager of vehicle design and infotronics, is tinkering with a variety of in-car health apps that could monitor biometric data such as heart rate, blood sugar, allergies or alertness.

Using a Bluetooth link, the watch or other wearable would relay the data to the vehicle's infotainment system, which then would warn the motorist of a possible health emergency.

A diabetic's body monitor, for example, might detect blood-sugar levels that could -- if untreated -- cause lightheadedness and blurred vision.

Or if the vehicle detected a high pollen count on a given route, the onboard navigator might suggest an alternative route.

Another possible use: A smart watch or wristband could transmit biometric data to an onboard computer, which then could calculate an appropriate mental workload. If the motorist is stressed, the computer might limit access to text messaging or other distractions.

Strumolo detailed these and other possible health-monitoring devices during a June 5 presentation at Telematics Detroit, a conference in Novi, Mich.

Strumolo said automakers would have to ensure the privacy of the health data by using these guidelines:

  • The data would not be stored in the vehicle's memory.
  • Motorists could share the data with their physicians.
  • Personal data could be stored in a secure cloud account such as Humana's Healthrageous app or Microsoft's Azure.

So, are we going to see a battery of health-monitoring apps in our cars, or is this vaporware? Actually, this looks like it's going to happen.

Macworld has reported that Apple is expected to introduce its iWatch in the fall, while Google has announced plans to extend its Android operating system to watches.

Smart watch technology doesn't require additional hardware from the automakers. That would be a significant lure for a company such as Ford, which has experimented with biometrics and described the monitors in 2012.

Experimenters built a seat buck with metal pads on the rim that could measure the driver's heart rate. A seat-belt sensor tracked the motorist's breathing rate, and infrared sensors on the steering wheel monitored the driver's palms and face to detect changes in temperature.

These sensors add cost to a vehicle, but the benefits for the motorist might be considerable.

You can reach David Sedgwick at dsedgwick@crain.com



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