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Dashboard setup keeps tabs on diabetic drivers

Onboard system from Medtronic uses Bluetooth to wirelessly transmit information about blood sugar levels to driver.

View of dashboard
With Medtronic's "M-Powered Concept Car," drivers can get blood glucose readings through the dashboard. Courtesy of Medtronic

If someone with diabetes is driving down the road and starts to feel a hypoglycemic attack coming on, that person may realize what's happening and stop to get a bite to eat. Or not, which could lead to trouble. That latter scenario inspired Medtronic's "M-Powered Concept Car" and its onboard glucose-monitoring system.

With data transmitted via Bluetooth, the wireless setup lets people wearing a continuous glucose-monitoring system (CGMS) get readings of their blood sugar levels through audio and visual cues from the car's dashboard. Medtronic, a medical-device manufacturing company, premiered the car at the 68th Annual Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association, which is wrapping up Tuesday in San Francisco.

Steven Cragle, Medtronic's senior director of communications, said people with diabetes risk losing consciousness due to a sudden drop in blood sugar levels. Diabetics with active lifestyles could possibly experience this while driving.

"Losing consciousness while driving is obviously not a good thing and statistics can back up that this is a safety risk for people with diabetes," he said. "We wanted to make driving safe and possible."

The system looks a lot like a GPS unit. With it onboard, drivers are informed when they have a drop in blood sugar levels, and are urged to pull over or given directions to the nearest restaurant or rest stop. The company said a future system would allow the car to dial up medical assistance once the driver has abnormal levels of blood glucose or fails to respond to prompts.

For now Medtronic has no estimate of when, or if, the car will enter the market.

The "M-Powered Concept Car" is the most recent addition to what appears to be a growing field of products that help patients monitor their medical conditions.

Germany's Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft research institute, for example, recently conceived of a digital assistant that measures a wearer's respiratory signals and transmits the information to a cell phone or a PDA. If the value fails to reach a predefined level, the system sets off an alarm.

And the Tyndall National Institute in Ireland has come up with a radiation detector that fits inside an implantable medical device to measure how well radiation therapy is working for cancer patients.

Concept car at show
Medtronic shows off its concept car at the American Diabetes Association's meeting in San Francisco. Courtesy of Medtronic