The technology, developed at the carmaker's European R&D center, is still a long way from making it into vehicles but could potentially be used to warn of heart attacks.
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Someday, your car may be keeping an eye on your heart health.
Ford announced today it has developed a driver's seat that can monitor the occupant's heart function with the help of six embedded sensors on the backrest that detect "electrical impulses generated by the heart" without actually contacting the skin.
The technology was developed at the Ford European Research and Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany, with the help of researchers at the RWTH Aachen University.
Ford said it can envision sending data to "remote medical services" and providing "alerts of imminent cardiovascular issues such as a heart attack."
"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 conditions drivers were previously unaware they had," Dr. Achim Lindner, medical officer at the Ford research center, said in a statement.
Although not all companies are necessarily jumping on the health-and-wellness bandwagon, the use of driver assistance systems in vehicles is on the rise. Such systems deliver everything from assisted breaking to adaptive cruise control that speeds up or slows down the car based on road conditions. Regardless, they all have the same goal in mind as Ford's heart-monitor offering: improving safety.
Because of that, the use of so-named Advanced Driver Assistance Systems are set to explode in the coming years. This year, the market value of those systems is expected to hit $10 billion, according to a recent study from ABI Research. In 2016, that figure will jump to $130 billion, the research firm predicts.
In addition to the heart monitor, Ford recently announced other health-related research that could someday come to Ford's Sync in-car tech system if testing goes well: glucose monitoring and both diabetes and asthma management.
As for the company's heart-monitoring system, there is still a lot of work to be done. Ford said that in its stationary testing, 90 percent to 95 percent of testers were "compatible" with its system, which means the service was able to monitor their heart rate. Moreover, during on-the-road testing, the system was "highly accurate" for 98 percent of the time the driver was behind the wheel.