A heart attack behind the wheel can render much of your car's safety equipment moot despite decades of advancement. Ford Motor Company has tasked its European Research Center in Aachen, Germany with finding a way to reduce accidents caused by drivers experiencing heart trouble. According to the automaker, their prototype seat with contactless electrocardiogram technology can warn drivers to seek medical attention immediately by scanning for potential cardiovascular trouble through clothing.

According to Ford, by 2025, nearly one quarter of Europeans will be at least 65 years old, a figure that increases to one third by 2050. As risk of cardiovascular disease increases with age, drivers suffering from conditions like angina can be more than fifty percent more likely to be involved in an accident, so there's a lot of motivation to push this technology.

The prototype seat presently delivers accurate readings for 95 percent of drivers 98 percent of the time. Ford researchers are now looking into how the seat can be integrated with the other safety systems to work together to protect drivers who experience issues behind the wheel.

The safety aspect may be the most obvious application of this technology, but who knows – maybe it could also give real metrics about just how excited a thrilling run in a Mustang Boss 302 actually is. Press release posted after the jump.

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AACHEN, Germany, May 24, 2011 – Ford Motor Company's advanced research engineers have developed a prototype vehicle seat that can monitor a driver's heart activity and could one day reduce the number of accidents and fatalities that occur as a result of motorists having heart attacks behind the wheel.

Engineers from Ford's European Research Centre in Aachen, Germany, working closely with Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule, Aachen University, embarked on the project to address an often overlooked traffic safety issue – accidents triggered by drivers who experience heart problems.

The prototype Ford seat employs ECG (electrocardiograph) technology that monitors the heart's electrical impulses and detects signs of irregularity that can provide an early warning that a driver should seek medical advice, because he might be impacted by a heart attack or other cardiovascular issues. Whereas a normal ECG machine in a doctor's office requires metal electrodes to be attached to the skin at various points on the body, the Ford ECG seat has six built-in sensors that can detect heart activity through the driver's clothing.

"The system will be able to detect if someone is having a cardiovascular issue, for example a heart attack, and could also be used to detect the symptoms of other conditions such as high blood pressure or electrolyte imbalances," said Dr. Achim Lindner, Ford Research Centre medical officer. "This not only benefits the driver; but also could make the roads safer for all users."

Research by the Impaired Motorists, Methods of Roadside Testing and Assessment for Licensing project, a three-year European Union research programme, found that drivers suffering from cardiovascular disease were, on average, 23 per cent more likely to be involved in a road accident. For drivers who suffered from angina, this figure grew to 52 per cent.

With 23 per cent of Europe's population expected to be 65-years or older by 2025, and 30 per cent by 2050, the number of drivers at risk of heart attacks is likely to rise considerably in the coming decades.

Ford is also testing the prototype seat to understand how it could work with other advanced systems within Ford vehicles to warn a driver to pull over and seek medical attention, or possibly even send out an alert to emergency medical workers if necessary.

Lindner said the mobile phone could play a key role as the interface for any future application of the technology. Connected to a system such as Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch, due to arrive in Europe in 2012, the Ford heart rate monitoring seat potentially could use the driver's mobile phone to send a message to medical centres, alerting doctors to irregular heart activity. The seat also could be linked to SYNC's Emergency Assistance function to inform emergency response teams of the driver's heart condition before, during and after an accident.

Ford is exploring how advanced safety technologies such as Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keeping Aid, Active City Stop and Speed Limiter could work together with the heart rate monitoring seat to help protect drivers in cases where they experience heart problems.

Ford's engineers also are studying how the heart monitoring seat can be used to observe heart patients and allow doctors to maintain a record of heart activity that can be transmitted to medical professionals and reduce the need for visits to the hospital.

"Although currently still a research project, this technology could prove to be an important breakthrough," said Lindner. "As always in medicine, the earlier a condition is detected the easier it is to treat, and this technology even has the potential to be instrumental in diagnosing heart conditions early."

Ford researchers have been working since early 2009 to adapt the contactless ECG technology developed by Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule, Aachen University.

"The Ford seat is a natural progression from our work on contactless ECG monitoring equipment and provides an exciting potential real-world benefit," said Professor Steffen Leonhardt of Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule, Aachen University. "As the population in Europe and around the world ages, more older people will be behind the wheel and the safety risks increase. This technology holds the promise of saving lives and making the roads safer."

In early tests, the Ford heart monitoring seat has recorded accurate readings during 98 per cent of driving time for 95 per cent of drivers. Ford's research engineers are continuing to study how sensors can be made to record signals through a greater number of materials including those that interrupt readings with their own electrical activity.

Heart Health Facts

It is a misconception that heart attacks are always accompanied by severe chest pain; some victims suffer no pain at all and an American study found that a third of people who suffered a heart attack did not call an ambulance (UK National Health Service)
Across the EU in 2008, men were nearly twice as likely to die from a heart attack as women (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and European Commission)
More than one quarter of the world's adult population suffered from high blood pressure at the beginning of the 21st century. That figure is expected to have increased by 60 per cent by 2025 (European Union Public Health Information System)
Diseases of the heart accounted for 40 per cent of all deaths inside the European Union in 2008 (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and European Commission)

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      1/2 the country will have diabetes by 2020, so this will be easy to guess, too. Flip a coin, and presto! Heart attack potential!
      • 4 Years Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      What's next? Toyota seats come standard with nerd detectors?
      Jesus follower!
      • 4 Years Ago
      They need to stick to purchasing/making quality parts. I just bought a 2012 Focus and the dashboard has split right above the pass side air vent closest to the door. That, and my vent trim plastic is chipped. It took a week for Ford to respond and they had the nerve to say they want to try to "repair" it first. How do you repair a split dashboard? Uh, no, I told the dude to tell Ford they can kiss my butt, I want a new dash. I am calling Ford CS tomorrow, if they do not fix this right the first time, they will have lost a lifelong fan. I have had 11 Ford products since I was 16...I am 32 now...my family is mostly Ford, if they don't want to lose them they better treat me right. Bottom line...technology can be nice, but focus on what really matters first, like building a reliable dashboard.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Jesus follower!
        what in the world did you do to split your dash? This is the very first instance of this I've heard since the Focus has been out. Besides, Quality Control and R&D are completely different departments. Do you expect them to cease all further future development and put all employees on Focus dash-checking duty?
          Jesus follower!
          • 4 Years Ago
          Oh and to answer your last question, no, but the ones on duty can at least do their job.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Sounds like a good idea to me... isn't this how Randy Savage the wrestler died recently? Had a heart attack in his vehicle? If the phone is going to send information to the police before they arrive to the scene, it'd be nice to know if the driver is suffering a heart attack and if they need to be prepared for that when they arrive on the scene. Haven't really read any comments that weren't sarcasm yet on this article
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nice one, Just for joke: May be some study found Ford owners have more chances of getting heart attaches while they are inside the ford car.
      • 4 Years Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Too much BS in the modern car. My newsest vehicle is a 2005. Not really looking forward to upgrading anymore. Too many Gizmos in the new junk being built now.
      • 4 Years Ago
      They set up they describe does nothing but amplify the signal from the seat.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is just stupid. Sorry, Ford, but spend your time and money elsewhere.
      Teddy Sweat
      • 4 Years Ago
      I have a mother-in-law that has heart issues and she drives a Ford. Personally I think it's a great idea and I'm pretty sure when she finds out, she'll be more inclined to buy another Ford product. I hope they fast track this tech and companys like Buick, Cadillac, Toyota, and other companies that sell vehicles to older more mature buyers follow suit.....
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