online.wsj.com / By Joseph B. White / November 27, 2012, 6:33 p.m. ET
What the car of the near future will sense about your biology. Auto makers are researching technology that could feed your heart rate, blood pressure and other biometric responses into the car’s computers, the better to determine when you’re drowsy or overwhelmed with distracting media. MIT researcher Bryan Reimer and WSJ’s Joe White has details on Lunch Break.
Could a car that knows when you are stressed or ill save you from having an accident? Auto makers are stepping up efforts to find out.
A number of big car manufacturers are accelerating research into equipping vehicles with so-called biometric sensors that would keep tabs on a driver’s vital health signs, including pulse, breathing and “skin conductance,” aka sweaty palms. When that information is fed into the computers that manage a car’s safety systems, it could enable a vehicle to better react to whatever challenges the road and traffic dish out.
The move comes amid major advances in mobile medical-monitoring technology, as well as growing concerns about meeting the needs of an aging and increasingly distracted population of motorists.
It also reflects another step in the industry’s broader move toward self-driving cars, a brave new world in which computers could all but eliminate the potential for driver error—whether it’s due to a distracting phone call or a sudden drop in blood sugar.
Already, some Lexus models use in-cabin cameras and some Mercedes-Benz vehicles have steering sensors to detect drowsy-driving behavior. The cars sound a warning beep or flash a coffee-cup icon to suggest that it’s time for a break. Luxury brands are promoting these accident-avoidance technologies as examples of what sets their expensive vehicles apart from cheaper, mainstream models. The Mercedes system, called Attention Assist, comes as standard equipment in a wide range of its vehicles, from the smaller C-class sedans to the more opulent, and high-tech, S-class models.