Ford scrap "heart attack monitor" driver seat
There's been no shortage of development in automotive innovation of late. BMW has recently joined the ranks of Honda and Toyota, unveiling its own hydrogen cell prototype with a reported range of more than 400 miles, with water as the only by-product. Around a quarter of new cars in the UK feature some form of driverless technology, be it automatic parking, shaking seats to alert drifting drivers and automatic emergency stop manoeuvres. By 2018, we could finally see the first fully automated cars driving on UK roads, while murmurings of the Apple iCar refuse to go away.
Not every proposed innovation manages to take flight however. Ford recently launched its own experiment in the GoDrive car-sharing scheme, which charges drivers by the minute and allows them to pick up and drop off electric cars at London hubs, somewhat like an automotive version of Boris Bikes. That one looks like being a success but the company has reportedly just quietly put another project to bed.
Ford announced in October that it was working on a seat that could monitor the driver's cardiovascular system using sensors in the steering wheel and cameras. This could in theory catch irregularities and engage automatic steering and braking systems in the event of the driver having a heart attack.
The company has now said that it was transitioning away from the project and looking at different avenues for health and wellness monitoring. The decision appears to have been influenced by technology advances elsewhere, including wearables such as smart watches and activity trackers.
Ford told The Financial Times: New sensor technology and wearables will provide more precise measurements that will improve the experience we can offer. We need to be smart and move at the pace of technology...to stay ahead of consumer trends.
The seat would have featured a series of six sensors that could monitor the driver's heart rhythms without the need to attach any wires. Ford declined to say how much it had spent on the project but stressed that it had only been at the research stage with no firm plans for production. According to The Financial Times, the company had a research and development budget of $5.5 billion (£3.5 billion).
Carmakers are increasingly investing in electronic technology and software alongside the engineering side of the automotive industry.
Thilo Koslowski, automotive practice leader at technology consultancy Gartner, said: Automotive companies are clearly still figuring out their role in a consumer electronics-dominated world. The automotive industry has always been way too conservative in experimenting with new technologies and organisations must have some intellectual and financial freedom to explore new opportunities.
Not every innovation or proposal would come to fruition but Mr Koslowski claimed that the odd failure was acceptable, saying: But that's a small price to pay when compared to the other option of being reduced to a simple device maker and being at the mercy of other industry leaders.