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
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
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.