Ford will soon be offering medical software for SYNC. Currently in the development phase, Ford has recruited medical hardware and software partners to tackle health risks like diabetes.

Another partner, MedTronic allows users to interact with Bluetooth glucose monitoring devices via SYNC voice commands. For example a mother could check on the health of her diabetic child sleeping in the back seat.

Another partner, MedTronic allows users to interact with Bluetooth glucose monitoring devices via SYNC voice commands. For example a mother could check on the health of her diabetic child sleeping in the back seat.
Hardware partners for diabetic blood sugar monitoring devices and more lined up, system nears market

On Tuesday Ford Motor Company (F) revealed one of the ways it's working to safeguard its drivers and stay one step ahead of the competition in vehicle quality.  The company revealed new additions that will transform its in-vehicle voice-control SYNC system into a platform to monitor and assist drivers' health, particular for drivers with chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

"Ford sees the car as more than just a car," Paul Mascarenas, Chief Technology Officer at the Ford Research and Innovation Center, "[We see] the car as a platform... just like your smart phone or tablet."

I. Monitoring Blood Sugar Via Voice Interaction

According to Ford, the average driver spends up to a week per year behind the wheel and that time is increasing as America's population and traffic congestion grows.  While drivers are in the car -- particular when driving on vacation -- they risk breaks in health monitoring.  Blood sugar or heart problems can severely impair a driver's ability to function safely on the road, but they're often overlooked until it's too late.

Ford introduced several hardware and software partners at the event, including medical device maker Medtronic Inc. (MDT).  Medtronic makes a wireless blood sugar sensor that connects over Bluetooth.  Thanks to SYNC's built in capabilities the device can now communicate with drivers giving them helpful alerts.

For example, a driver with high blood sugar might receive the message, "Your blood glucose level is 108 and trending upward."

When a device wearer rides in a Ford vehicle with the appropriate software installed onboard, they will be able to monitor their health using voice commands like "blood sugar level", just like they would change the radio or climate control in the current version of SYNC.

James Dallas, senior vice president at Medtronic states, "We want you to be in the know, whether you're at home or on the go."

Medtronic says the system would be particularly important if you have a child with diabetes.  It might be hard to tell whether the child was sleeping or having a diabetic episode and passed out -- with continuous blood glucose monitoring via SYNC you could have peace of mind.

The company also mentioned that a SYNC-compatible version of its wireless monitoring devices for heart disease patients was in the works.

II. Can the Car Help You Avoid Allergens and Smog?

But that's not the only ambitious ideas Ford is cooking up with the help of its partners.  Ford is also encouraging medical app makers to port their apps to work with SYNC via the recently announced App Link initiative.

SDI Health, makers of the popular "Allergy Alert" website and iPhone app was among the first to heed the call.

The new app can give drivers warnings about the current allergy levels for the current day and next three days and remind them to pick up allergy medication if pollen levels are on the rise.

Ford even is hoping to make it so the system adjusts the climate control to increase filtering and close the external air vents, if high allergen levels are detected.

Aside from allergy sufferers, SDI Health also hopes to assist those driving in urban areas.  Currently Ford's Navigation services allow the driver to select the fastest route.  With SDI's app, the driver could select the "healthiest" route, which would re-route the driver to avoid patches of smog that build up around areas like Los Angeles.

III. To the Cloud?

Services provider WellDoc also is partnering with Ford.  Whereas Medtronic makes physical monitoring devices, WelDoc focuses on the patient dialogue, asking patients questions and providing them with feedback and education.

With their new SYNC project, drivers could be asked questions and get health advice via the cloud, over their smart phone.  If they were having a diabetic attack, this could prove vital in adverting disaster as many patients forget what to do, to get their blood sugar under control.

WellDoc's President and COO, Dr. Anand Iyer says that integrating to SYNC is the next step in the service's "seamless integration" objective, which placed its services in iPhone, Android, webOS, Windows Phone 7 apps and more.  

Dr. Iyer emphasized that WellDoc was the only service provider of this nature to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that in clinical trials it showed its services significantly improved clinical outcomes for patients.

IV. Why Now?

Ford says the technology is advancing quickly, but is still just outside the commercialization phase.  Whether it takes five months or five years to end up in consumer vehicles remains to be seen, but Ford says it's not worried about tipping its hand.

It says that it is aware of "no automaker" other than it designing a similar system.  It says its point of going public with the incoming technology is to announce to the public, "This is real technology."

Ford says it's dedicated to creating safe vehicles.

The question of driver distraction was raised, regarding the voice interactions.  A commenter raised recent comments from U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood, in which he said he was concerned about distractions from voice controlled systems.

But Mr. Mascarenas said these concerns were minimal, as monitoring your health via voice control was superior to the alternatives -- neglecting to monitor chronic conditions or trying to monitor them by taking your eyes of the road and fiddling with gadgets.

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs

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