In-car heart-rate sensors provide on-the-go readings

Ford has announced a new car seat which can monitor the occupant's heartbeat, continuing its drive toward in-car medical monitoring features.

The US automaker, which already unveiled this month a new set of technologies such as pollen counters and glucose monitors which could one day be linked up to vehicles, announced the new seat March 24 after a collaboration with a German university.

A joint project between Ford and Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) Aachen University, the new seat uses embedded sensors which can detect the electrical impulses generated by the heart.

Six sensors are positioned on the surface of the seat's backrest and have been designed to read the electronic "signature" of a heartbeat through clothing, although the researchers are still fine-tuning the product to work with all types of material.

During testing, it has managed highly accurate readings for up to 98 percent of time spent behind the wheel, Ford says.

The advantages of such a system are becoming more obvious as in-car technology improves - having access to a driver's heartbeat can enable the car to constantly check a driver's state of health and display a daily reading, perhaps in conjunction with other key measurements such as weight.

But the computational ability of in-car computers also means that such a system could be life-saving when fitted for drivers who are specifically at risk from a heart problem, such as elderly drivers with an existing condition.

If the system detected an imminent problem, it could begin to slow the car automatically to reduce the risk of a serious accident, for example.

Another function might be to provide real-time data to remote medical services in the event of an accident, or to send automatic updates to a doctor to help patients with diagnosed illnesses manage their condition.

The ideas behind this aren't new, of course - several concept cars in the past have suggested the idea of bioreadings, including Taeho Yoon’s ‘Muon’ concept car which could monitor heartrates using sensors in the steering wheel.

In 2005, Toyota US boss Jim Press said he believed future models could sport blood pressure monitors and diabetes detection software - six years on, it seems that prediction could be about to come true.

See the system in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEQ9smLOG4Q

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