Ford developing in-car health monitoring tech

Drivers will be able to track pollen counts, check blood glucose levels

Ford announced on Wednesday that it is developing voice-controlled wireless technology that connects drivers to various health-monitoring technologies and services for things such as Web-based allergen alerts, asthma management tools and diabetes control.

Ford said it's developing its initial offering by working with medical device maker Medtronic, mobile health vendor WellDoc, and health analytics provider SDI Health, which developed the allergy website tracks pollen counts around the U.S.

Ford is leveraging its Sync technology, a factory-installed, in-car communications and entertainment system developed with Microsoft. The voice-operated Sync system, which uses Bluetooth to connect wireless devices, is offered in 12 different Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models.

Through Sync and its technology partnerships, Ford developed a blood glucose monitoring capability, location-based allergy and pollen alerts, and voice-controlled, cloud-based health management services.

"Ford Sync is well known in the industry and with consumers as a successful in-car infotainment system, but we want to broaden the paradigm, transforming Sync into a tool that can also help improve people's lives as well as the driving experience," Paul Mascarenas, CTO of Ford's research and innovation division.

The mobile research firm Research2Guidance says that smartphone apps are set to become the killer healthcare product, with a research report projecting that about 500 million people will be using them within five years.

According to the Global Mobile Health Market Report 2010-2015, compiled by Research2Guidance, more than a third of 1.4 billion smartphone users in 2015 will be running some kind of mobile healthcare application.

The major app stores, such as Apple's, are now housing as many as 17,000 health apps for download, with nearly 60% of those aimed at consumers rather than healthcare professionals, according to Research2Guidance.

"Wireless health provides an unprecedented ability for monitoring and promotion of health and wellness for all individuals," William Kaiser, Professor of Electrical Engineering at UCLA, said in a statement.

Kaiser has worked with NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate to study how wireless health technologies can be used to track an individual's fitness and health status, and help identify potential risks and challenges.

"Studies show that wireless health empowers people with information and guidance that can directly address the most important health concerns," he said.

While the technology is still in the prototype phase, Ford is focusing its efforts on two groups of people -- those with diabetes, and those with asthma or allergies.

Almost 26 million adults and children currently have diabetes in the U.S., according to the American Diabetes Association. About 60 million Americans have asthma or allergies, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports.

Working with Medtronic, Ford's researchers have developed a blood glucose monitoring service that allows Sync to connect via Bluetooth to a wireless Medtronic continuous glucose monitoring device and share glucose levels and trends through audio and a center display. It will also provide secondary alerts if levels are too low.

Working with SDI Health and its website, Ford Sync enabled its smartphone Allergy Alert app through AppLink, giving users voice-controlled access to the app, which provides location-based index levels for pollen; asthma, cold and cough and ultraviolet sensitivity warnings; and four-day forecasts.

"Our developers initially created the iPhone app to provide users with greater access to the information they've come to rely on from," Jody Fisher, vice president of marketing for SDI, said in a statement.

"Having instant, portable access for their conditions helps users plan their day or week ahead so they can remain active, which ultimately improves their quality of life," Fisher said.

Ford is also currently working on integrating its in-car access to WellDoc's mobile health services. WellDoc offers a cloud-based service for asthmatics and diabetics to store their personal health information and receive real-time patient coaching, behavioral education and medication adherence support based on their historic and current disease information.

Ford said on Wednesday that it is also examining other, more long-term health and wellness technologies and ideas related to heart rate, relaxation and reducing stress. Ford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been studying the correlation between stressors and driving performance, wrapping up a nine-month advanced research project last fall that showed that drivers are less stressed when using selected vehicle technologies such as Ford's Active Park Assist and Cross Traffic Alert systems.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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