Assistant system checks driver's health condition - during the ride

November 03, 2011 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Researchers of the Munich Technical University have developed a car-based sensor unit that can monitor the driver's health status. At the same time, the sensor can serve for early detection of sudden weakness of cardiac attacks.

The system has been developed in cooperation with carmaker BMW. Integrated into the steering wheel, the device measures vital parameters such as heart beat frequency, skin resistance and blood oxygen saturation.

According to Professor Tim C. Lueth of the Munich Technical University's chair for micro technology and medical devices technology, there have been developed a number of systems serving to measure vital parameters during the ride in the context of stress tests. None of these systems however would be suitable for automotive volume production. By integrating their sensors into the steering wheel, the researchers could make a complex wiring of the driver unnecessary. The measurement data are radioed to a microcontroller that displays the results in the center stack screen of the vehicle.

The goal of the project goes beyond data acquisition and detecting of isolated dysfunctions. "Our vision is that the vehicle notices if the driver does not feel well and automatically takes appropriate measures," Lueth said. "For instance, if the skin resistance indicates a stress situation, incoming calls can be blocked and the volume of the radio can be reduced. In the case of more severe situations, the system can switch on the hazard warning lights and reduce the speed - if necessary it can perform automatically an emergency braking".

The main building blocks of the system are two commercially available sensors. One transmits infrared light into the finger; the reflected light is used to determine the heart beat frequency and the oxygen saturation in the blood. The second one measures the electric resistance of the skin. The scientists also developed a microprocessor program that processes the data and communicates them to the head unit.

The research was part of the Fit4Age project which aims at developing assistance systems for an ageing society.