Driving is a task that requires full concentration, and the slightest of distractions can result in fatal car accidents. According to the World Health Organization, over a million people die in road traffic accidents, every year. Most of these accidents are caused when the driver loses control, which in a lot of cases, occurs due to a medical emergency. Heart disease is the most common ailment and one of the top causes of deaths around the globe. If a medical emergency like a heart attack occurs when the victim is behind the wheel, it can be fatal not only to the patient but also to the people around. The Japanese automotive giant Toyota has partnered with a team of researchers at the University of Michigan to create a cardiac monitoring system that could be built into cars, to give the drivers an early warning of such an event.
Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center is funding the project with a feasibility grant to investigate a system that can monitor the driver’s cardiac condition in real time and how it can be implemented into vehicles. The Michigan Medical lead researcher for the study, Kayvan Najarian said, “The study took about seven months, and we identified the challenges, potential solutions, hardware options and algorithmic approaches that could be potentially used.”
As the team is done with the feasibility study, exploring a variety of possibilities for the system, two challenges have arisen. One of them is the development of the system that will monitor the driver’s heart rhythms amidst the noise in the vehicle. An external wearable device could do the job, but it will be preferable to have the sensors embedded into the steering wheel, seat or the seatbelt.
Developing the algorithm to process the sensor information and predict if there is a risk of a major cardiac event is another significant challenge. The team has a plan to develop the algorithms and the hardware solutions in the next two to three years, and the next set of results is expected by 2020.
Once the design challenges are met, and the system becomes functional, then the team will look into the decision that the vehicle will need to make in case of an impending cardiac event. If the driver were informed, it could make the conditions worse by adding to the driver’s stress, but if the car applies the brakes autonomously and brings the car to a stop, this will be equally dangerous.
A significant percentage of the drivers on the road are older people, with greater chances of them experiencing heart conditions. As the autonomous vehicle technology evolves, having a heart attack detector in a vehicle does not sound like the most feasible of solutions. When the cars have the ability to drive themselves, it will not be important to identify a cardiac event because you can simply change the vehicle’s destination, and get to the hospital and there will be no fear of an accident.
Source: University of Michigan