Ford Ends Its ECG Seat Plans

Small Wearables Can Alter Big Industry Visions

Ford_ECG_lIn 2011, Ford unveiled a research project to embed electrocardiogram (ECG) electrodes into car seats. The sensors would monitor the driver’s health, detecting any signs of irregular heartbeats and providing warnings. Engineers had also been working on a related emergency navigation system for times when a driver is unable to pull over owing to a medical emergency.

The increasing number of older drivers spending more time on the road meant that demographic trends justified health-monitoring in cars, but the industry’s research and development and productization cycles are too different from than those of mobile device makers.

According to the Financial Times (subscription required), Ford is ending the ECG project following a decision that the feature would be redundant in the face of today’s wearables. The consumer electronics industry and the automotive industry move at very different paces. Adoption rates and product upgrade cycles aren’t the same for low-cost gadgets and heavy equipment, forcing car makers to monitor and adapt to cross-industry trends.

According to the article, company executives stated that “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.”

Projects like Ford’s ECG efforts could eventually pay dividends as occupant wellness and crash prevention are still important focus areas, but this shows the growing risk the industry faces from technology products like smartphones, tablets and wearables. Consumer electronics devices are infiltrating an environment where built-in, non-upgradable features have long been the norm.

Companies such as Apple, Google, Lenovo and Samsung aren’t direct competitors to automakers, but compete for mindshare and profits from optional features and services. Technology firms enjoy the advantage of short development cycles, but car features can take several years to develop.

Consumers have been conditioned to a level of modularity that contrasts with embedded features, and the bring-your-own-device trend has made its way into vehicles. Now wearables are finding a place in the car.

If you’d like to receive free Daily Insight
e-mails every day, click here to sign up