Heart and Road Safe

A fascinating new tech race is emerging in the auto industry in response to an aging demographic and an increased prevalence of heart disease. Both Ford and Toyota have taken major steps in addressing this issue by developing heart monitoring devices that can be integrated into their cars.

Both systems monitor the heart rate of the driver and provide early indication of potential heart attacks, cardiac arrest, or other heart related problems. Driving is an ideal time to monitor the heart rate because people spend a lot of time in their car, are relaxed and seated and, finally, are at risk of hurting others if they have heart problems. If drivers with suspected imminent heart difficulties can get off the road and call for emergency assistance or get to a hospital, a collision can potentially be avoided. It also provides medical personnel with lead time to prepare and reach a victim who is in need of aid.

In a Toyota safety report of over 170 fatal collisions it was found that a fourth of these were caused by sudden changes in the driver’s physical condition. Of those, 70% were related to heart disease, including sudden cardiac arrest. This information is not surprising considering 4.8 million Canadians are aged 65 and over (14.1% of the national population) and 1.3 million Canadians (4.8% of the national population) reported having heart disease. Frighteningly, many of these at risk people are driving and endanger themselves and others on the road.

Toyota's optical heart monitor

Toyota uses optical sensors in the steering wheel and Ford uses a 6 sensor system on the surface of the backrest to measure the driver’s heart rate and electrocardiogram. All this information can be viewed on the central display of the navigation system. Both systems will advise and warn the driver if abnormalities in their heart vitals are detected. If immediate attention is required, such as sudden cardiac arrest, the system can contact and alert first responders of the problem. Ford claims that 90-95% of test subjects proved compatible with the system and that the heart rate reading was highly accurate up to 98% of the time. Both manufactures saw this technology as only the tip of the iceberg and that this innovation could monitor glucose levels, asthma, allergies and other ailments in the future.

Ford's six sensor ECG back rest

What is particularly innovative with this technology is the obvious concept that pre-emptive measures are more effective in saving lives or preventing injury on the road then reactive technologies. Car manufacturers continually boast more air bags, better anti-lock braking and impact protection systems but, these features presume a crash will occur – a situation that cannot guarantee prevention of injury or death. Similar to built-in breathalysers thwarting people with high blood alcohol levels from driving, a heart monitor specifically warns and stops people that are at high risk of crashing due to heart abnormalities. This is a great technology that can not only help save the lives of victims of heart disease and cardiac arrest but, also the innocent lives of other drivers on the road.

About Matt Renwick

Student at Queen's School of Business studying finance and consulting. Summer position as Project Support Specialist at Global Medical Services and Consulting.

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