Digital Health

Point-of-car: How your car becomes a digital assistant doctor

Point-of-care is what doctors call the place where diagnostics take place. Classically, this is the hospital or the doctor's office. Increasingly, however, the place of diagnosis is moving to the patient's wrist. Digital wearables make telemedicine possible in the living room. Or in the car! After all, every German spends an average of up to 60 minutes a day in the car. It is therefore not surprising that the industry has discovered the point-of-car for itself. 

That was close! When there is almost an accident in traffic, adrenaline and cortisol rush into the body, the blood withdraws to supply the vital organs, the driver is wide awake. Now it's time to take a deep breath to get back to a normal pulse. In Ford's "Mindfulness Concept Car", the air conditioning now helps the driver to breathe.

After the near-crash, cool air blasts come out of the vents, simulating and stimulating a deep inhale and exhale. Because the sensor system of the braking system has reported that things have just got very tricky, the air-conditioning system knows what to do in a fraction of a second. The Cologne-based car manufacturer presented the innovation to the public at the IAA 2021.

It's not all about engine performance anymore

Engine performance and acceleration are no longer the only things that make a car special these days; entertainment systems and wellness functions are also important. A trend that more and more car manufacturers have recognised. People who feel unwell are more likely to be distracted from the traffic. In contrast, well-being increases concentration, allows the brain to react more quickly and thus increases driving safety.

Modern car seats offer massages, pneumatic supports strengthen the back. The press of a button is all it takes for relaxation to begin. Pressing, kneading, plus lots of heat. Rollers roll across the back. After just a few minutes, the muscles loosen up. In addition, spherical sounds are heard and scents - either of ferns or forest - come out of the ventilation.

The car becomes more and more an oasis of well-being. The aim is to reach the destination in a more relaxed and balanced way. So far, however, the automotive software has remained mostly passive, merely recommending rather than actively intervening.

The actively "mindful" automobile

With its latest concept study, Ford goes one step further to lift the driver back into relaxation mode. If the pulse at the wheel goes up or down, the interior lighting reacts automatically and sends out calming light or light that makes the pulse and driver more agitated.

The seat motors can also react to find the best position for the individual's level of tension. Even the audio playlist responds to annoying stop-and-go traffic, for example, and plays particularly soothing bars.

Acoustic "brain stimulation" is provided by speakers in the headrests and in the roof during a short nap. Then the seat moves into the reclining position, the neckrest is raised and the restful short nap can begin. Even yoga exercises in the car seat - for example while charging the battery at the charging station - are part of the acoustic programme.

What seems like an engineer's playground could become part of the basic equipment of cars in the future. Reducing stress, promoting mindfulness, positioning the car in a world that is producing more and more burnouts and mental illnesses, that sounds only logical.

The driver's seat that responds to the driver dozing off

Many drivers immerse themselves in their personal comfort zone when they close the door and sit behind the wheel. Why shouldn't this be supported with light, sound, climate and a car seat - which increasingly resembles a high-tech instrument?

In the future, vital parameters could play an even greater role in all this. In various automotive prototypes, for example, several sensors in the seat back detect the electrical impulses of heart activity and can record them like a long-term ECG.

Seat supplier Recaro, for example, is tinkering with sensor technology that enables the car seat to react independently. Depending on the data, the massage, ventilation or pneumatics of the upholstery are activated. By means of a shaking function, Recaro also wants to wake up the driver who has fallen into a microsleep or simply keep him awake.

But that is not all. Cognitive stress can be detected by measuring the change in the pupil. Sensors in the steering wheel and an integrated camera can already monitor the driver's biometric condition. Why shouldn't it also be possible in future to carry out small blood counts directly while driving? Or the doctor will switch on to diagnose and treat.

The car takes over in the event of a heart attack

Engineers and researchers from the University of Oldenburg and the Ingenieurgesellschaft Auto und Verkehr (IAV) have asked themselves what the car can do autonomously when the driver is in an acute, medical emergency. Here, too, the focus is on the vital data of the drivers, combined with registered deviations from their individual driving behaviour.

If individual values deviate too much, the vehicle intervenes. The car is brought to a standstill and the emergency call is automatically triggered. The concept goes beyond the already existing assistance systems. "Fatigue or emergency assist programmes know practically nothing about the driver's state of health and do not intervene or intervene too late in emergencies," says IAV engineer Mark Busse.

His technology reacts to shortness of breath or a resin attack and then initiates the appropriate measures. The engineers have named the rescue system "The Car That Cares" and have already installed it in a first series-production vehicle on a test basis.

"e-Call" emergency has long since become mandatory

It expands the range of uses of the car emergency call, which has been mandatory since 2018. In the event of serious accidents, the "e-Call" automatically radios the fire brigade and provides the control centre with important data even before it is called out: location, time of accident, direction of travel and vehicle identification number. But the obligatory emergency call, which according to consumer organisations is still largely unknown among German drivers, only reacts to external events such as a car accident.

"eCall" cannot react to a heart attack. However, car drivers are getting older and older, the average age is rising and so is the risk of illness-related incidents while driving. In addition, many are travelling alone. This is why the IAV engineers and the University of Oldenburg are hoping for a great response to their concept study, which will be presented in autumn 2021.

Assistance systems against motion sickness

But do we still need all these innovative medical assistance systems when autonomous driving will be the norm, when cars no longer even have a steering wheel? Yes! Because even in an autonomous car, passengers want to relax and calm down. Here, too, they can suffer a heart attack while driving alone.

Passengers in autonomous driving will also have to deal with another problem in the future: motion sickness. This occurs when the information coming from the organ of equilibrium does not match the visual information from the eye. If the body cannot categorise this, it reacts with nausea, nausea, cold sweat and a rapid pulse.

The supplier ZF wants to prevent this with new assistance systems. Steering, brakes, engine, springs and dampers are adjusted to the passenger's well-being while driving. According to the manufacturer, the technology is already so precise that it can react differently to problems of individual occupants in the cockpit.

Artificial intelligence is also supposed to analyse driving manoeuvres in order to adjust the subsequent manoeuvres or to choose a different route where motion sickness does not occur in the first place. Instead of taking a winding mountain road, the system suggests a route via a motorway.

So the holiday can also come when we are on the road autonomously!

Text: Von Ron Voigt