Medical emergencies like heart attacks are responsible for thousands of car accidents each year. Since heart attacks may result in a loss of consciousness, the risk of a crash following a heart attack while driving is a real concern. Experts anticipate that the number of medical emergencies leading to accidents will only increase as the population ages.
Toyota is currently conducting several research programs aimed at detecting medical conditions in drivers such as heart attacks and diabetic emergencies.
The goal of the research is to determine if these emergencies can reliably be detected within a vehicle. If so, engineers could design a system that allows the car to safely stop on its own when a medical emergency is detected. The hope is that this would reduce the number of crashes caused by medical conditions.
Detecting a heart attack in a vehicle is not an easy feat. Doctors in a hospital have access to high-quality equipment and are able to use it in a controlled environment. Attempting to reliably detect a heart attack in a car involves overcoming many challenges.
Medical-grade cardiac monitoring equipment cannot be installed in the vehicles. The size and cost of this equipment makes it impractical for widespread use in cars. Researchers would still need to find high-quality equipment that can reliably detect a heart attack while filtering out the background noise associate with a vehicle. So far researchers have explored the possibility of embedded sensors in seat belts and making use of wearables like smart watches.
Toyota is currently working with researchers at the University of Michigan to study the heart attack detection system. The company is investing $35 million in research into heart attack and diabetic emergency detection. With the current study scheduled to last until 2021, it will be at least several more years before a system like this could be developed. Still, this technology may be something to watch over the coming years.
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