Ford investigates wearable technology for driver assistance

| Transport

The wearables lab in use at Ford

Michigan research centre explores the use of wearables by drivers to enable driver assist systems to use biometric data to detect sleep impairment.

The growth in wearable technology is now enabling vehicle manufacturers to integrate advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) with data concerning the driver’s well-being and state of awareness. To explore this more fully, Ford has opened a wearables research laboratory at its Dearborn research and innovation centre in Michigan.

Scientists and engineers at the lab are using wearables to provide connections between the driver’s biological parameters and such driver assist technologies as lane assistance and blind spot information systems.

The sensitivity of lane departure warning or lane following assistance systems could be adjusted depending on the level of sleep impairment of the driver, becoming more reactive when the driver’s body signs show that there is some level of impairment due to a lack of sleep. Similarly, if there are signs of stress, such as increased heart rate, the distances at which Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) or Blind Spot Information systems trigger can be increased to give the driver more reaction time.

The number of biometric parameters that can be usefully measured include blood pressure, blood glucose level and heart rate.

Ford’s global manager of vehicle design and infotronics, Gary Stumolo commented on the opportunity that the company has for developing safety related technology in future vehicles that take advantage of the growth in popularity of fitness bands and smart watches.

“Wearable technology integrated with the vehicle allows for more accurate biometric data to stream continuously and alert active driver-assist systems to become more sensitive if the driver shows signs of compromised health or awareness,” he told us.

In-vehicle connected wearables

Smart glasses, smart watches and wrist bands are the main three wearable devices that are being researched at Ford’s Dearborn lab with each being able to be used not only for gathering information from the driver but also for feedback to the driver.

This feedback is something that can be employed as alerts or warnings or as a signal to the driver of an impending need for a semi-autonomous car to relinquish control back to the driver. An example is when the car detects an approaching hazard or topography that it can’t negotiate autonomously, such as roadworks or an accident scene. In this case, flashing lights in the glasses or sending a vibration pulse to a watch or wrist band will provide an unmistakable signal to the driver.

Smart glasses provide a very wide range of opportunities both within the vehicle as a head-up display or in other situations such as the car showroom for virtual test drives or an augmented reality tour of a new vehicle features to help make purchasing decisions.

Commenting on the endless potential of wearable technology both inside and outside of the car, Gary Stumolo continued, “We’re evaluating many different wearable devices and applications from helping to keep Ford drivers healthier and more aware behind the wheel to offering an enhanced customer experience at our dealerships.”

Employee wearables challenge

With the potential for integrating wearable technology having such a wide scope, Ford has thrown out a challenge to its employees as well as those working for Henry Ford Health System to come up with concepts for apps that combine vehicles and wearable devices for the benefit of the health and wellbeing of vehicle occupants whatever their ages.

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