Gadgets are becoming smaller and smaller nowadays.
Save for the obsession with plus-sized smart phones (or ‘phablets’), today’s electronic devices are considerably lighter, thinner and far more capable than the candybar Nokias we had 15 or so years ago. Indeed, you can even wear gadgets around your wrist that do more than just tell the time.
Ford’s new Automotive Wearables Experience laboratory – housed in the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan – is working to integrate wearable devices and vehicles to enable driver-assist technologies to be more aware of the driver behind the wheel, particularly when that driver is stressed or sleepy.
“As more consumers embrace smart watches, glasses and fitness bands, we hope to develop future applications that work with those devices to enhance in-car functionality and driver awareness,” said Gary Strumolo, global manager for vehicle design and infotronics at Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, in a statement.
The company said lane-keeping assist, for instance, could become more sensitive if a smart watch sends data to the vehicle that infers if the driver didn’t get enough sleep the previous night. Likewise, if a driver’s heart rate increases as traffic intensifies, the vehicle’s adaptive cruise control could increase the distance between vehicles, giving the driver some breathing room.
“Wearable technology integrated with the vehicle allows for more accurate biometric data to stream continuously and alert active driver-assist systems to become more sensitive if the driver shows signs of compromised health or awareness,” Strumolo said.
Being able to measure wakefulness and biometrics like blood pressure, blood glucose and heart rate could also benefit semi-autonomous driving features. The company said the wearables lab is examining ways to signal a driver using semi-autonomous features of the need to take driving control back from the vehicle. If there were road construction or a road crash ahead – situations requiring full control of the vehicle – the technology could send a wrist vibration or chimes, or even activate flashing lights on the dash.
The company also said the technology could also be used as soon as you walk into the dealership. A customer-focused experiment the lab is working on involves augmented reality (AR) optics or smart glasses, which customers would wear as they guide themselves through a showroom, seeing additional information about vehicles they’re interested in. Looking through glasses could offer a wide range of features from technical specifications to a virtual test drive.
“The potential in this space is endless,” Strumolo said. “We’re evaluating many different wearable devices and applications – everything from helping to keep Ford drivers healthier and more aware behind the wheel to offering an enhanced customer experience at our dealerships.”