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Ford R&D lab exploring the integration of wearables and vehicles


Researchers at the new Automotive Wearables Experience laboratory located at the Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Research and Innovation Center are exploring ways to connect crucial health information to in-vehicle technologies.

For example, lane-keeping assist could be more responsive if a smartwatch sends data to the vehicle that senses that the driver is drowsy.

Additionally, if a driver’s heart rate increases as traffic worsens, in-vehicle technologies such as adaptive cruise control or Blind Spot Information System could increase the distance between vehicles to provide the driver with more space.

“As more consumers embrace smart watches, glasses and fitness bands, we hope to develop future applications that work with those devices to enhance in-car functionality and driver awareness,” said Gary Strumolo, global manager for vehicle design and infotronics at Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. “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.”

Ford and Henry Ford Health System also announced it is co-sponsoring an app developer challenge with Henry Ford Health System, which seeks innovative technology to measure in-vehicle health metrics.

The challenge encourages Ford and Henry Ford Health System employees to submit app concepts that integrate vehicles and wearable devices, to provide a comprehensive health and wellness program designed for customers and patients of all ages and conditions.

Submissions open January 20, with finalists for the first phase being announced in March. Contestants have the opportunity to win prizes valued at $10,000 in total.

Wearables are an integral part of Ford Smart Mobility — the vehicle manufacturer’s strategy to innovate vehicle technologies through connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, the customer experience, and data and analytics.

The semi-autonomous driving features can also be further benefited through the ability to measure wakefulness and health data including blood pressure, blood glucose and heart rate via wearable technology.

As such, the wearables lab is exploring methods to signal a driver using semi-autonomous features of the potential need to take control of the vehicle. For instance, in a situation that requires the driver to take the wheel (such as road construction or an accident), the technology could send a wrist vibration or chimes, or activate flashing lights on the dash.

Researchers are developing voice control capabilities for the smartwatch version of MyFord Mobile, which allows Ford drivers to remotely start, lock, unlock and locate their vehicle via a watch app without touching their watch or phone.

The lab is also developing ways to improve the dealership experience through the use of augmented reality optics, or smart glasses. Customers wearing smart glasses could walk into a showroom and view additional information about vehicles they’re interested in, as well as access features like technical specifications and a virtual test drive.

“The potential in this space is endless,” added Strumolo. “We’re evaluating many different wearable devices and applications – everything from helping to keep Ford drivers healthier and more aware behind the wheel to offering an enhanced customer experience at our dealerships.”

In related news, Fingerprint Cards announced earlier this month that it is developing solutions to enable the use of FPC’s touch fingerprint sensor technology for automotive applications. As well, at CES, EyeLock demonstrated a proof of concept that validates the driver and authorizes the start of a vehicle using its iris authentication technology.

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