Ford disconnects research on heart attack-sensing car seat

click to enlargeThe Gimlet Eye returns and hopes that Ford has a better idea, because this wasn’t it. The automaker announced over the weekend that it is abandoning research on car seats that would detect cardiac anomalies such as a heart attack and then (presumably safely) bring the car to a halt (and also presumably, call for medical assistance). A corporate statement to the FT stated that Ford was ‘transitioning’ to other projects, based on advances in consumer wearables. No indication of spend out of a $5.5 billion budget. Undoubtedly, the potential for sensor problems in seats and the danger of shutting down a car while driving were insurmountable. No tears though….

In-car health monitoring has roundly lived up to our Quantum of Dismay. Ford’s first efforts exactly four years ago were hoopla around ‘the car that cares’ (a limp update on the equally limp late 1960s Ford US slogan in our lede). Multiple announcements over a year trumpeted Ford SYNC AppLink with diabetic, pulse and stress apps from WellDoc, Medtronic, SDI [TTA 19 May 11] and a year later IMS Health’s AllergyAlert [TTA 7 Aug 12]. Yet take a look at Ford US’ SYNC3 page today–devoid of health apps.

German Engineering not to be outdone, BMW had also toyed with a stress app in its steering wheel to monitor perspiration. This would be of great use on a hot day or in average city traffic.

The Google/Apple/Tesla hype, and threat to the main automakers, has turned to the self-driving car, which has its own advantages (enabling mobility for those who cannot or no longer can drive, an adjunct to urban transit) and disadvantages (hacking and for the truly paranoid, limitations on mobility equivalent to geo-fencing). Once all about apps, it’s now about autonomous cars, security, privacy and managing traffic. (see the June CEWeek Connected Car Conference in NYC).

The Eye Blinks in Amazement why car manufacturers even would want to add more Unsafe At Any Speed factors: more distraction and temptation with too-active dashes that blink, animate and beep-boop, calls through distracting dash displays which connect to yet more smartphone apps that never quite pair up with the dash display, videos for the kiddies in the back. And no real solutions for common but killer problems like tired driving (how about optional blasts of neat oxygen, as pilots do, with a reminder to pull into the nearest rest stop) and (pre-conviction) buzzed or drunk driving. Why not concentrate on safety, usability and reliability? And for heaven’s sake, do something about your aesthetics since most cars seem so ugly or blandly look-alike today?


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