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SYNC Could Listen to Your Heart

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author photo by Autotrader May 2011

Ford's SYNC system can already help you place a call, find a restaurant and even read your text messages aloud, but it may soon have another special feature: monitoring your heart rate as you drive. Ford's engineers are currently testing the feature, which Ford says will be informational, convenient – and potentially even lifesaving.

Developed by Ford's Germany-based European Research Centre, the system uses seat-mounted sensors that detect electrical impulses generated by heart. The impulses can then be monitored by computer software, which checks drivers' real-time health, potentially warning of cardiovascular issues and even imminent heart attacks.

That's good news for a rapidly aging population, many of whom may not have time to see a doctor as often as they should. About 12 percent of Americans were over 65 in 2000, a number expected to reach 20 percent by 2030 – and with increased age comes a greater risk of heart problems. But with SYNC keeping an eye on heart rate, Ford says drivers will have a chance to catch any problems before they get too serious.

"As always in medicine, the earlier a condition is detected the easier it is to treat," said Dr. Achim Lindner, Ford Research Centre's medical officer. "This technology even has the potential to be instrumental in diagnosing conditions drivers were not aware they suffered."

While it may still be years before the system finds its way into everyday cars, early tests have been promising. Ford says the system uses six unobtrusive electrodes mounted in the seat, specially designed to detect the heartbeat through clothing. Stationary testing has yielded a 90 to 95 percent accuracy rate, while on-road testing has seen even better results, hitting correct heart rate numbers a shocking 98 percent of the time.

And there's more to the system than just warning drivers of health issues. Ford says the technology could potentially link with other in-car safety aids like Lane Departure Warning, Speed Limiter and Active City Stop, minimizing the possibility of losing control during a medical emergency. It could even alert first responders to a heart attack victim, or provide them with ECG telemetry from before, during and after an accident, giving rescue workers a head start in helping a crash victim even before arriving on scene.

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SYNC Could Listen to Your Heart - Autotrader