EXPLAINED: CAR DOCTOR
THE NEXT GENERATION OF CARS WILL KNOW MORE ABOUT YOU THAN YOU DO YOURSELF, ALL IN THE NAME OF A BETTER DRIVE
How future cars will be better at keeping you awake, relaxed, and could even diagnose what ails
MODERN CARS HAVE many ways of saving your life. Take your eye off the road for a second and semi-autonomous technology will keep you in your lane or hit the brakes. Make a bigger error and active safety systems such as electronic stability control will do everything they can to prevent a collision and, in the event of an unavoidable crash, passive safety tech including airbags will maximise your chances of walking away. But the next generation of cars will extend your life expectancy not just when the unforeseeable happens, but every time you climb aboard. Health-monitoring technology is the next big advancement in occupant protection and comfort, and it has numerous real-world benefits. Software and the computing power of ultra-fast processors, along with highly sensitive sensors, are pioneering new driver and passenger monitoring systems to build a perfect picture of human health. And, just as importantly, spot the early signs of problems.
1. THE PERSONAL TRAINER
A number of manufacturers, including the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, are already offering technology in production models that enable occupants to remain more active during long road trips using sophisticated power seats. Inflatable pouches and electric motors embedded beneath the cushions provide resistance training programs for the passengers, who follow instructions on the vehicle’s digital displays like a virtual personal trainer. The same technology can provide muscular massage to stimulate blood flow or mobilise inactive joints, boosting comfort both during the journey and when getting out at the end.
2. THE GUARDIAN ANGEL
Iris recognition and eye-tracking systems offer multiple advantages. Not only does the technology have the potential to do away with the key by identifying authorised drivers through their unique eye ‘fingerprint’, eye-tracking can catch driver distraction and drowsiness long before tiredness manifests itself as hazardous driving. If the car thinks the driver is dangerously compromised, it will automatically make changes to the climate control, play invigorating music or increase the brightness of the ambient lighting along with warning messages. In the worst case and the driver falls unconscious for any reason, the vehicle will detect the problem and safely bring the car to a halt.
3. THE PHYSICIAN
An array of advanced sensors measure numerous biological parameters including highly sensitive radar that can detect breathing, electrodes or green LEDs embedded in the steering wheel that use photoplethysmography (PPG) to measure heart rate, while cameras monitor facial movements. Ford first explored the potential of heart-rate monitoring in cars a decade ago, but the latest systems are able to cross-reference an occupant’s vital signs with a vast reserve of information on the internet, potentially diagnosing serious conditions. An irregular pulse may highlight heart problems before the occupant is even feeling unwell; other prototype systems can detect and interpret abnormal facial expressions as an early warning of stroke, while blood-glucose monitoring systems are also being developed as an extra layer of safety – particularly for diabetics.
4. THE THERAPIST
While serious medical complications are hopefully a rare occurrence, the connected vehicle will be capable of detecting and alleviating a much more common problem – stress. Virtually any touch-point in the interior can house tension-sensing devices to manage the stress levels of all occupants. Whether it’s a road-rage incident or a tough day at the office, the vehicle can either administer conversational notifications and warnings or more subtle therapy in the form of soothing music, aromatherapy and a seat massage.
5. THE CATCH
The privacy of personal medical information creates perhaps the greatest stumbling block for health-monitoring systems in vehicles. It’s one thing to give your doctor access to sensitive records but what about your mechanic? And without the correct encryption and secure storage infrastructure, there’s a risk your information could end up in the wrong hands. Some opponents claim insurance companies would like to risk-assess drivers based on their health and fitness, while others suggest your medical information will provide another source of revenue for the world’s data giants.