Many vehicle crashes are due to unexpected medical emergencies such as heart attacks. So, Japanese automaker Toyota has teamed up with researchers from the University of Michigan to investigate whether advanced vehicle technology could predict and potentially prevent such accidents. They are developing a heart monitoring technology that may revolutionize the automobile industry.
[Image Source: University of Michigan]
Toyota's heart monitoring technology
In an adverse road scenario where a driver experiences an unexpected heart attack, passengers inside the car are also in danger of death or serious injuries. And the statistics for motor accidents caused by medical conditions are alarming. Toyota decided to tackle this motoring problem by collaborating with researchers from the University of Michigan to find solutions for it using technology.
"Essentially, they showed me that a large number of traffic incidents are caused by medical conditions while driving, specifically cardiovascular events, such as myocardial infarction and myocardial ischemia", said Kayvan Najarian, an associate professor at the University. "The medical event interferes with the driver’s ability to safely drive and operate the car, causing the accident".
After presenting all the facts, Toyota explained that its ultimate, and ambitious, goal is to avoid such accidents altogether. The automobile manufacturer immediately gave Najarian and his research team a feasibility grant to study which types of computational systems could be integrated into vehicles to achieve the desired safety objective. Physiological patient monitors are also required to work with the computational system to come up with a heart monitoring technology that could potentially detect cardiac events while driving.
"The study took about seven months, and we identified the challenges, potential solutions, hardware options and algorithmic approaches that could be potentially used", said Najarian. "But we concluded that cardiac events were conditions that are more feasible to detect with technology in the vehicle", he added.
Najarian and his team enumerated the challenges they are faced with in developing this breakthrough heart monitoring technology.
"You can’t have clinical-grade monitoring devices in the vehicle. You need to use a high-quality monitoring device in the vehicle that, despite all the in-vehicle noise, could reliably register the driver’s ECG without being large and obtrusive. It’s going to have to be different than what you would expect to experience in a clinical or hospital setting".
Toyota's principal scientists for their Collaborative Safety Research Center Pujitha Gunaratne also weighed in on the challenges this cardiac predictor is shrouded with.
"A challenge for vehicle applications is having a system that can detect small changes in heart rhythms but can also separate out the noise and motion that happens inside the vehicle. In an ICU, there are all types of mechanisms in place to ensure that the monitors are not experiencing electronic interference. That’s not as easy inside a vehicle. We’re going to need to have robust and advanced algorithms".
Future research and studies
Researchers from both parties will commence a physiological data gathering from drivers using heart monitors approved by Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They will use heart monitoring patches and stick them to a driver's chest. It will be capable of analyzing physiological data in real time.
Najarian's ultimate goal is to "come up with a system that would predict the occurrence of adverse cardiac events in real time".
The team will continue to conduct testing and validations of algorithmic and hardware options that can be integrated within the vehicle to actively monitor the driver's heart condition. They are hoping to report results in 2020.