Ford puts the brakes on its heart rate sensing car seat project

By Aditi Pai
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Ford's visualization of heart rate monitoring seats from 2011 Ford's 2011 visualization of heart rate monitoring seats

Ford has confirmed that it will no longer continue a multiyear research initiative to embed heart rate sensors in its car seats, according to a report from the Financial Times.

The carmaker explained that one reason they decided to halt the initiative on heart rate-sensing seats is that there are cheaper and more precise heart rate sensor options on the market already. Some newly launched heart rate sensing wearables include the Apple Watch, the Fitbit Surge, and Jawbone's UP3.

“New sensor technology and wearables will provide more precise measurements that will improve the experience we can offer,” the company told the Financial Times. “We need to be smart and move at the pace of technology . . . to stay ahead of consumer trends.” 

Ford first announced the heart rate sensing seats in 2011. At the time, Ford said it was researching embedded heart rate monitors in seats to measure — among other things — a driver’s stress level. They explained that the car seat would monitor a driver’s heartbeat through six sensors on the surface of the backrest that detect electrical impulses from the heart.

Then, in 2013, the company explained that while they still were considering the addition of heart rate sensing features to their car seats, Ford said it would not offer any features that alert the user to changes in their physical condition, like if they were experiencing a heart attack. Around that same time Toyota was showing off heart rate sensing steering wheel concepts and touting the technology's potential to alert drivers about heart attacks, and Ford's comments were a reaction to Toyota's.

Ford revealed digital health integrations before its car seats made headlines, however. Using Ford's Sync technology, which allows drivers and passengers to connect their smartphones to the car via Bluetooth and control apps via the car’s built-in touchscreen, Medtronic, WellDoc, and IMS Health have worked with the carmaker's research team to connect health-related apps to the car's computer.

In 2012,  that discussed the potential for health-sensing features in cars. Some health conditions that Rock Health said cars may be able to address included obesity, hypertension, arthritis, back pain, and diabetes.

The heart sensing car seat concept may not fade following Ford's disclosure this week, however.

Last year, UK Nottingham Trent University researchers, Professor Tilak Dias and William Hurley, launched a study in collaboration with semiconductor company Plessey Semiconductors to study the efficacy of an electrocardiogram (ECG) system embedded into the the driver’s seat of cars. This system, called Electric Potential Integrated Circuit (EPIC) monitors heart rate and alertness to detect when the driver has fatigue and may fall asleep at the wheel. The system could also be used to determine the car’s occupancy and adjust the ride, handling, and air bag deployment.

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