Heart rate sensors could be added to car seats to prevent accidents

Researchers from Nottingham Trent University are working on a study that could make in-built car seat heart rate sensors a reality. The Technology Strategy Board, which offers funding to help businesses bring innovative concepts to market, has awarded £88,318 to a feasibility study by the university’s Advanced Textile Research Group, led by Professor Tilak Dias and William Hurley.

The idea is to embed electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors in the fabric of car seats which would monitor the driver’s heart rate and instantly detect changes that signal they’re falling asleep (or passing out, or having a heart attack, I guess). The sensors would then send a warning (whether an alarm or a short sharp shock, I’m not sure) to the driver to wake them up. If there was still no change, the sensors would then send the data to a central control centre and the car could even be programmed to pull over or go into cruise control to help prevent accidents.

The academics will be working with electronic sensor developer Plessey, who has previously had success in measuring heart signals using sensors mounted on the driver’s seat. Now their challenge is to collect consistently reliable data while integrating the sensors into the seat fabric. Nottingham Trent’s Advanced Textiles Research Group focuses on electronic textiles and its cutting-edge knitted electrodes are integral to the project. (The group’s eventual aim is to develop a truly wearable computer and its other projects include fabric antennas for megahertz frequency communications and noise-absorbing textiles.)

With one in five motorway accidents due to driver fatigue, this has to be one of the best uses of wearable tech out there (even if technically it wears you…) If the study is successful, the aim is to bring it to market, focusing on luxury cars and more importantly, overtired truck drivers.

Image via NRMA Motoring and Services’ Flickr.

Diane Shipley