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Heart rate-sensing car seats could alert sleepy drivers


July 17, 2014

Sensors right in car seat textile could be used to monitor heart rate and detect when a driver is falling asleep

Sensors right in car seat textile could be used to monitor heart rate and detect when a driver is falling asleep

Falling asleep at the wheel is extremely dangerous both for the driver, and for others sharing the road with them. A team of researchers at Nottingham Trent University are working on a solution to this driving threat. They're doing it with sensors in a car seat that detect the driver's heart rate, and alert the driver if they start dozing off.

Plessey Semiconductors, a UK company that's collaborating with the university on the research, has already successfully used capacitive sensors mounted in a driver's seat to unobtrusively measure the occupant's cardiac signals.

To make the system really flat and unobtrusive, however, the researchers are proposing an actual textile that would feature the sensors, instead of devices that are attached to existing car seats. The team has a working prototype, but it has cited a need to "improve the consistency and reliability of the data so that it can be used for the intended purpose." Essentially, the data is being gathered, but it's not always reliable and usable.

The proposed system would use the data to send an alert to the driver that they're falling asleep, and that they should pull over. If the alert is ignored, that's where the technology could take over and engage systems such as active cruise control and lane departure systems to guide the car safely. It could even send the information to a control center to take further action. Some might find the idea to be a little intrusive, but if it can actually save lives, it's hard to argue.

The Technology Strategy Board has committed £88,318 (US$151,046) in funding to the project, and it will be quite interesting to see how it develops as it moves along. Of course, there's no time frame for when we might see this technology used in an actual automobile, but it's good to see steps taken in this direction.

Source: Nottingham Trent University

About the Author
Dave LeClair Dave is an avid follower of all things mobile, gaming, and any kind of new technology he can get his hands on. Ever since he first played an NES as a child, he's been an absolute tech and gaming junkie. All articles by Dave LeClair

Reliable consistent data is the concern, people don't stay 'fixed' to the seat back. They move around, arch their backs as they stretch for a moment, etc. The system must be able to ignore these varying gaps in data flow to predict fatigue or whatever through the heart rate. I wonder how the prototype copes with the "heartbeat" 'doof doof' of rock music, for example.

The Skud

If they can get it to work, there is no reason why it should be limited to road vehicles. Trains would seem to be a sensible application too.

Just a thought. When one is alert, the muscles holding the head erect must all be taut to some extent. However, when one 'nods off', I assume none of them are. I wonder if there is any (non-surgical) way of detecting the two different situations and warning the driver accordingly.

Mel Tisdale

I hope it is affordable so more can afford to use this excellent idea.

I agree with Mel, I think there are more potential uses besides cars.


Interesting, but my resting heart rate is 42 - 44 bpm whether I am awake or asleep! It cannot drop below 40 bpm as I have a pacemaker. So how will this technology differentiate between relaxed and asleep?


He almost made it to the hospital for his heart attack but his car decided he was too sleepy and pulled off to the side of the road.

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