Nurse, the screens please, I’m going for a drive…


As in-car connectivity becomes the rule, rather than the exception, carmakers have come to realise that the technology can be used to offer consumers a broad array of services to increase brand differentiation, foster customer loyalty and grow the revenue stream.

Manufacturers are following the lead from the consumer electronics industry, which now offers increasing numbers of fitness and healthcare solutions on connected devices to an increasingly health-conscious marketplace.

According to various sources, BMW and Czech manufacturer Skoda are currently conducting research and development on in-car eHealth solutions while Ford is in a partnership with a provider of mobile health solutions. Other carmakers are surely also actively pursuing ways to market this potentially powerful brand differentiator.

According to Neelam Barua, industry analyst for automotive and transportation at Frost & Sullivan, these products should be on the market in six to eight years. “Car connectivity will initially be used for providing comfort for the driver and passengers, and for healthcare monitoring,” he says. “They will be launched by mass-market carmakers in the US and Europe.”

Future applications will probably take the form of monitoring the driver’s heart rate and having seats that can provide massages to the car’s occupants, especially on long trips.

“You can have sensors in the steering wheel that monitor the driver’s heartbeat, blood pressure and perspiration,” Barua says. “This data could be relayed from the car to a cloud-based solution for analysis.”

According to Venkat Rajan, industry manager in Frost & Sullivan’s advanced medical technologies division, the solutions will be offered in two categories: acute trauma prevention, as an extension of the car’s safety system, and to manage chronic diseases.

“For example, you could have a seatbelt with a heart monitor, or it could detect swerve and lost motor function,” he suggests. “The system would act to stabilise the car and prevent distraction. And in case of some trauma, such as a heart attack, it would disable and slow the car down. This can be part of the car’s advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), an add-on to the safety system.”

The solution would also enable remote calls to and from the vehicle and, perhaps as part of an existing emergency response system such as eCall, send alerts to first responders, who would dispatch an ambulance to the location, as they would in case of an accident. “And the health records could then be sent to the nearest hospital,” Rajan suggests.

Regarding the management of chronic diseases, the solution could use devices people are already wearing to monitor their condition, Rajan says, and cites the example of a child in the backseat suffering from low blood sugar.

“If that or any other situation turns into a clinical issue, you could be connected to a nurse,” he says, adding that US carmaker Ford is currently working on such a solution.

These products will inspire new partnerships between OEMs and companies already active in the eHealth field, Rajan predicts, such as that between Ford and WellDoc, a startup healthcare company that develops and commercialises mobile prescription therapy.

In 2011, Ford and WellDoc announced they were collaborating to integrate the WellDoc Diabetes Manager System with Ford’s SYNC in-car connectivity system. In what could become a model for other in-car healthcare offerings, people suffering from the disease could enter health-related data regarding their medications, exercise programme and diet into Ford’s in-car SYNC system. The solution would allow healthcare providers to access this data from their Ford cars.

Barua suggests that in-car health solutions will be in the process of getting standardised. “You could have legislation to make Tier 1s OEMs or carmakers add health-related sensors to the car’s connected systems, just like the vehicle-to-vehicle mandate in the US and eCall in Europe,” he says.  

Catch up with all the latest developments at Active Safety: ADAS to Autonomous this October 12-13.

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