A new range of connected automobiles has begun to provide a continuous stream of real-time data related to the vehicle’s health. Onboard diagnostics (OBD) can proactively scan the vehicle for signs of trouble before it leads to an accident. This has resulted in higher safety and improved convenience for vehicle owners, new revenue streams for manufacturers/service centers and more competitive products for insurers. However, to ensure the highest levels of safety, it is important to also know how the driver is feeling when behind the wheel.
It is a well-known fact that seizures, strokes, heart attacks, black outs and impaired vision can cause accidents. A study in 2009 released by the US Department of Transportation estimated that about 20,000 accidents (or about 1.3% of all road accidents) were precipitated by medical emergencies .
In-vehicle wellness monitoring is the next level in safety. To do this, integrated sensors can be used to track real-time data on the driver’s physiological condition before they lose control of the vehicle. By detecting abnormalities in blood pressure, pulse, oxygen saturation and perspiration, respiration and heart rate, blood glucose levels, etc., appropriate evasive/defensive measures can be taken. Drivers can be alerted to take appropriate medication, care providers and family can be alerted, emergency services can be triggered or the vehicle itself can be brought to a halt.
A fusion of driver wellness monitoring and vehicle condition monitoring (along with tracking driving habits) will open newer markets by serving the needs of a new generation of customers and create new business models that will benefit all stakeholders.
Wellness monitoring can be fine-tuned to the needs of drivers and vehicle owners. For example:
- Wheel chair based drivers with disabilities and special needs can be provided assistance and guidance from appropriate support systems
- Fleet owners will be able to monitor the fatigue levels of their drivers (who spend upwards of 10 hours a day driving) and be able to identify drivers who could benefit from training programs and additional support—resulting in happier drivers
- Drivers with known allergies could be alerted to take evasive/ preventive action based on the analysis of air quality and the presence of pollen
- Aged drivers or those recuperating from illness or with pre-existing health conditions can be provided customized interventions
Sensors embedded in the vehicle—on dashboards, steering wheels, seat, visors, etc.—supplemented by data from wearables can be communicated to in-dash units. These units could analyze some types of data locally and use cloud-based systems for more sophisticated real-time analysis. Based on threshold levels, automated action can be initiated. Data captured from these systems could also be used to design training and support programs for drivers, resulting in improved wellbeing and safety.
There are many situations in which such a system can prove to be critical. One example is that of an ambulance driver. All ambulance trips are emergency trips, and a lot depends on the driver’s wellbeing. The chances of incidents can be reduced using in-vehicle health monitoring.
The technologies to make in-vehicle health monitoring a reality already exist. They have been used, tested and tried in a variety of industries, from manufacturing to health care. They are now poised to create the next differentiator in vehicle design and command a premium from buyers.