Just a week ago, Ford announced partnerships for its in-car health management system, and now it is unveiling another, this time self-developed, auto part: a contactless ECG sensing driver’s seat. The seat has six built-in sensors that together produce a signal very similar to a single lead ECG. The sensors, developed by Aachen University in Germany, consist of capacitative electrodes that can detect electrical activity contact-free at a short distance. Through thin layers of clothing an accurate ECG can be produced, while thicker layers increase interference. But even with clothes thickness of 2.5 mm, at least the QRS-complex can be clearly identified. Several filtering techniques are employed to reduce artifacts caused by body movements.
According to Ford, the seat produces accurate readings during 98 percent of driving time for 95 percent of drivers.
Of course, detecting arrhythmias or other ECG abnormalities is one thing, but the next question is what to do with those signals. First thing the system will do is to warn the driver to pull over and seek medical attention, or send out an alert to emergency medical workers if necessary. In addition, Ford has a few technical tricks, including advanced safety technologies such as Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keeping Aid, Active City Stop and Speed Limiter that it envisions to be connected to the system. The system could also potentially work as a “black box”, being linked to SYNC’s Emergency Assistance function to inform emergency response teams of the driver’s heart condition before, during and after an accident. Lastly the Ford engineers also foresee the heart monitoring seat being used to observe heart patients, recording their ECG signal for longer time periods and possibly reducing the need for visits to the hospital.
When the seat will be available as an option for your next car is still unknown. For more technical details on the contactless ECG technology, in an earlier incarnation of the seat dubbed the “Aachen SmartChair”, follow the link below.
Details on the contactless ECG: Wireless and Non-contact ECG Measurement System – the “Aachen SmartChair”… (PDF)