Saturday, 23 July 2011

Toyota’s New In-Car Technology: A Steering Wheel Heart Monitor

Toyota Motor Corp.’s former president Katsuaki Watanabe once said that the auto maker wanted to develop the ideal dream car of the future – the more you drive, the healthier you become. A dream, but maybe no longer a pipe dream.
This week the country’s biggest auto maker showed off something it called “emergency-response technology,” a system to prevent major accidents caused by sudden changes in the driver’s physical condition. Toyota said it is working on the system to make it commercially available in future. The space-age sounding system was one of a number of safety technology systems demonstrated to reporters Thursday at Toyota’s state-of-the-art Higashifuji technical center located at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
The media tour of the facility, which was initially scheduled in late March but postponed after the March 11 earthquake, comes as the car maker looks to shore up its vehicle safety record after it came under fire for its global recall woes last year. The facility in Susono city, Shizuoka was opened to the media for the first time since 2007.
And the driver monitoring system? In a survey of more than 170 fatal accidents, about a fourth were caused by sudden changes in drivers’ physical condition, of which 70% were related to heart disease, according to Minoru Makiguchi, a project manager in charge of the new system. The system monitors the driver’s cardiovascular functions through the person’s grasp of the steering wheel, in which an optical sensor is mounted, and detects risks of heart problems. In the experimental system installed in a Prius, the chart of the driver’s heartbeat and electrocardiogram can be viewed on the display of the in-car navigation system.
If the system detects unusual heart movement, a message appears on the display to advise the driver to go see a doctor, or a warning to head straight to a hospital if the condition is likely to become critical. Mr. Makiguchi said the system could be used to check other health conditions, though he didn’t elaborate on other possible items that could be added. But if a driver can monitor his or her health every morning on the drive to the office, it could effectively become something to help the driver get healthier, just as Mr. Watanabe dreamed.

Still, there are some challenges that the company would need to overcome that a car maker doesn’t usually face.
“We will have to get approval from the health ministry if this is considered as medical equipment,” Mr. Makiguchi said.


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