LAS VEGAS — CES is chock-full of wearable devices that track your heart rate, oxygen consumption, footsteps — whatever.
But do you want your car to also track all that information? Several suppliers are betting the answer is yes.
French tech supplier Valeo is showcasing a system — dubbed Valeo Smart Cocoon — that sets the ideal cabin temperature after determining your heart rate and respiration, and even your gender. To do so, the company retrofitted a BMW i3 with infrared cameras and three seat sensors. Once the system reads your biometrics, it can warm or cool the seat, door panels and steering wheel.
This allows the vehicle to set individual temperatures for each passenger, and it does so without a blast of air from the dashboard vents. If you prefer a hotter or cooler setting than the system provides, you can adjust the temperature by using a console-mounted tablet. Once you do that, the system remembers your preferences.
Georges de Pelsemaeker, Valeo's health and well-being director, says the system works more quickly than a conventional climate-control system and reduces energy consumption by 30 to 55 percent.
He says the company hopes to offer a production-ready system by 2020 or 2021. For the moment, Valeo continues to tinker with its sensors. According to de Pelsemaeker, it might install a small radar in the headliner to detect passengers and collect biometric data. That would eliminate the need for seat sensors.
Another possible tweak: Valeo can modify the system so that it would tap biometric data from wearables, such as a passenger's fitness tracker.
Despite these tweaks, Smart Cocoon's biggest hurdle may be cultural.
"In the U.S. and China, people like a big air flow" from their climate-control systems, de Pelsemaeker said. "If you don't have that, some people will think it's not working."
Are biometric sensors better than a simple temperature dial on the dashboard? Not right now, perhaps, but two trends could change that.
First, more efficient climate-control systems will help improve a vehicle's fuel economy. Second, semi-autonomous cars will require an array of biometric devices to ensure the motorist is alert.
That will require infrared cameras that track the driver's eye movements. Once those are in the cabin, automakers can add functions such as Smart Cocoon at a moderate cost.
The first big users of biometrics may be commercial truck fleets. Biometrics would allow fleet operators to monitor driver fatigue, so French seat-maker Faurecia is introducing an aftermarket device for that.
The product, Active Wellness Express, is a seat slipcover with eight pressure sensors. The sensors measure the occupant's heart and respiration rates; fleet operators would monitor that data via the cloud.
"This is what we envision we can break into the market with," said Chad Durkee, a product engineer at Faurecia.