The ubiquity of the car, plus the simultaneous convergence of information and communication technology with both the automobile and healthcare industries, now provide some potentially promising opportunities for linkups.

‘Smart Seating’: where the automobile world meets healthcare

Every year the number of people on the planet buying cars increases. In the United States, 17 million cars were sold in 2012, and the figure is set to reach 20 million in 2019. Meanwhile, in total, US Americans have been estimated to drive close to 3 trillion miles each year. Traditionally, the car has been seen as a piece of equipment that carries considerable hazards, both in terms of safety risks and as being potentially detrimental to health. Sitting still for long periods increases the risk of diabetes, for example, and time spent commuting in a vehicle has been negatively correlated with happiness. However, cars have been evolving recently, first and foremost in response to the perceived safety issues. The first signs of concern over safety appeared with the generalised requirements in the 1970s to wear a seatbelt. The 2000s then saw manufacturers responding to drivers’ and passengers’ desires for greater comfort, with the development of such features as heated seats. Now it seems that in the not-too-distant future, automotive innovation could go far beyond safety and comfort, and address driver and passenger health issues.

Trends converging towardsa ‘health-oriented’ car

A report on ‘Smart Seating’ - Opportunities at the intersection of automotive and healthcare,  published by Rock Health, a non-profit accelerator for digital health and healthcare technology startups,in partnership with Faurecia, an automotive supplier, points to opportunities in this area. The health and automobile sectors account for an annual $2.7 trillion and $1 trillion respectively in the United States. Both industries are looking at various ICT-oriented solutions – connectivity, sensors, customisation, etc –which are opening the way towards a ‘health-oriented’ car.As one might expect, the first Smart Seating applications are mainly about improving in-car sitting posture. For example, Faurecia’s SmartFit and MicroFit technologies enable car drivers to adjust their position, based on information from sensors inserted into the seat and a screen showing suggested ideal posture. But beyond such merely physical adjustments, the industry’s development of smart cars is now turning the automobile into a connected tool which, just like a smartphone, provides a link with healthcare and wellness services, with apps covering such areas of health as monitoring diabetes and the driver’s heart rate.

Smart Seating, a new conceptat the intersection of the automotive and healthcare sectors

Smart Seating enables information and communication technology to be integrated into the car, connecting up applications and gathering a range of personal data. Some auto manufacturers have already gone this route. Ford has, for example, incorporated services for diabetics: the company’s AppLink platform includes, among other apps, integration with Medtronic glucose monitors and the WellDoc Diabetes Manager application. In the same vein, BMW has developed ‘Nigel’, a car that employs more than 200 sensors, not just to monitor the state and performance of the car, but also to measure its owner’s health data such as heart rate and blood pressure. The Smart Seating concept is set to go far beyond the automobile: it can be applied to contexts such as sitting on an airplane or working at the office, where we spend on average around eight hours a day.