How Health Monitoring Could Save Lives
Driver health monitoring isn’t really anything new - in the world of motorsports at least. Driving on the road and driving on the track are so fundamentally different that they require a completely different ways of thinking and each provide completely different stresses.
It would be easy to assume that racing at the limits of what is humanly possible would be more challenging considering there are times when a driver is one incorrect micro-adjustment away from certain death.
And you’d be right.
The danger of driving on the road is that we spend much of our adult lives doing it. We drive for years and we encounter stressful, even dangerous, situations regularly. Not hurtling around the streets of Monaco at 180mph stressful but stressful nonetheless.
Whether it’s someone pulling out in front of you at a junction, getting lost in an unfamiliar town or someone making dangerous manoeuvres during heavy traffic all add to the stressful experience of driving.
SPOTTING THE DANGERS
However, what about the things in life that can turn stressful situations into life threatening ones?
Many of us would like to think that we could anticipate when we were experiencing the early stages of poor health. There’s even a few health tracking apps out there to help keen eye on these things.
But how can we ensure consistent health whilst behind the wheel? How can we identify a pulmonary disease or the effects of driver related stress on our short term and long term health?
The short answer: much the same way as they do in motorsports - but with significantly less sticky tape.
MOTORSPORT VERSES NORMAL DRIVING
Motorsport is an incredibly intense activity for the driver behind the wheel. Many of us would fail to hold ourselves together, never mind make split-second strategic decisions for extended amounts of time.
There are multiple major crashes every year at the Le Mans 24 hour race. In 1955, 77 people were killed when Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes clipped the car ahead of him at 125 miles an hour and exploded.
This was a split second event that caused the worst motorsport accident in history, the details of which are simply far too horrific to go into - and the driver was in perfect health, well rested and the race was only 2 hours in.
Major incidents always provoke safety reviews and driver health monitoring has been used in the sport for years. The last thing the sport needs is for a drivers focus to wander, to lose consciousness or worse.
The crew in the pits keep an eye on the vital signs of the driver and signal to bring them back if anything looks worrying.
Unfortunately, driving on the road doesn’t provide such luxury has having a pit crew on hand. What road driving does provide, however, is the luxury of unrestricted weight and gadgetry for a more sophisticated implementation of driver health monitoring.
Automakers such as Ford have been developing electrocardiography (ECG) technology that integrates into the cabin of the vehicle. Instead of sticking electrodes to the skin, this system works remotely from the driver’s seat and other contact points and can even penetrate most normal clothing to provide accurate readings.
We then have the likes of Philips developing imaging systems to detect subtle changes in body temperature or blood flow. Cross referencing readings from each set of sensors could result in an extremely sophisticated system.
But why do we need all of this information? What are we going to do with it?
MAKING DATA USEFUL
This is the problem with almost all technology. Engineers create something incredible and with real value, but that simply isn’t enough to become something commercial viable. We need the data to be consolidated, we need some sort of interface and we need to see action.
As consumers and as drivers, we’re not going to read our diagnostics each and every evening when we get back from work. It’s the classic example of Google searching your symptoms online and immediately jumping to conclusions.
As autonomous systems are becoming increasingly common in modern vehicles, many of the most dangerous aspects of driving are being taken away from us. What could possibly be more dangerous on the road than a driver who has fallen ill or unconscious at the wheel?
It does happen and the results are always catastrophic.
This is where autonomy comes into its own. We’ve already seen self-driving cars working (with varying success) and many of us already have adaptive cruise control and lane detection to keep us driving in the right direction with very little input from the driver.
What we could see is a fully integrated driver health monitoring system that not only identifies existing health conditions but also predicts imminent problems and takes suitable action.
In the event of a medical emergency autopilot systems could safely navigate the either to a stop in a layby or potentially a medical facility, alerting the emergency services through a control centre over an integrated wireless network.
This is autonomous technology that we all of could get behind.
The enormous benefit of being in this hyper-connected world is how the accuracy and effectiveness of this sort of technology increases tenfold with proper integration. What good is data if we don’t know what to do with it?
The world is saturated with technology companies, all vying for the attention of the biggest automakers. What’s next is overcoming the obvious hurdle of commercial viability.
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