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Mobile auto tech is paving the way for safer roads

By Joe Hewitson / September 24, 2013

With texting and driving accidents on the rise, it’s hard to think of technology as a beacon of safety, but auto manufacturers and startups all over the world believe more innovation will lead to less danger behind the wheel. With roughly 11 million vehicle accidents reported annually in the U.S., there’s an enormous opportunity for mobile auto tech to save lives and make our roads less dangerous.

Keeping diabetics safe while driving

People suffering from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) have a 12% to 19% increased risk of being in an accident when driving under otherwise normal circumstances. Drivers experiencing unexpectedly low blood sugar levels — with symptoms of dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision and even seizures — may not realize they’re in danger until it’s too late.

Fortunately, a new partnership between Medtronic and Ford may save lives by keeping hypoglycemics aware of their blood sugar levels. The In-Car Health and Wellness Solution uses mobile technology in the form of a Bluetooth-enabled glucose monitor paired with Ford’s SYNC technology. When a driver’s blood sugar level falls outside predetermined thresholds, both audio and visual alerts are issued through the vehicle’s speakers and dashboard.

Staying awake on the road

With more than 100,000 accidents a year caused by drowsy drivers, falling asleep at the wheel is a real danger on highways, but it could soon be a thing of the past thanks to an Australian company called Seeing Machines.

Utilizing an infrared (IR) camera that’s capable of seeing through eyeglasses, the in-cab system detects when a driver’s blink rate increases and keeps them awake through audio signals and seat vibrations. This Fatigue Monitoring System has performed so well, Caterpillar has deployed it in all of their mining trucks, to the tune of $10,000 a pop.

Although Seeing Machines’ technology hasn’t made its way to consumer vehicles just yet, IR sensors could be a great fit in today’s cars. Those with iPhones can already get a taste for this technology with the Drive Awake app, which uses eye-tracking technology and emits a piercing audible alert if the driver’s eyelids become too heavy. Although not as advanced as Seeing Machine’s product, app-based implementations like Drive Awake are an important way mobile technology can immediately make our roads safer.

Leveraging idle driving time

One particularly innovative way to take advantage of mobile auto tech is by combining these safety technologies into “mobile health services.” A recent article at MobiHealthNews discusses using auto tech, such as Toyota’s heart rate sensing steering wheel and Ford’s growing list of SYNC-capable health applications, to make the most of driving time.

In the same article, the Department of Transportation states that Americans spend 500 million hours a year simply commuting to and from work. By using in-car technology to record basic vital signs like blood pressure and heart rate, commuters can better understand their normal health patterns.

With a baseline established, irregularities in these health metrics can be more easily discovered, possibly preventing crashes and other driving issues. The data collected could be transmitted wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet app for more detailed analysis. Although such health services certainly wouldn’t replace regular checkups, they could easily help improve the health of millions of people commuting every day.

Car manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve safety in their vehicles, and many of them will continue to rely on solutions that incorporate mobile technology. Whether it’s preventing accidents by keeping drivers focused on the road or monitoring their basic vital signs, innovative auto tech is improving the safety of everyone behind the wheel.