Your Car: The Future of Connected Health?

11/5/12Follow @mgxtro

The car is entering an innovation renaissance. While Tesla Motors—the electric car company led by PayPal founder Elon Musk—has become the emblem of auto innovation, other manufacturers are following suit. For example, Ford recently launched their AppLink API in 1 million vehicles, allowing drivers to seamlessly integrate and navigate their mobile apps for things such as navigation, playing music, or finding local deals from behind the wheel.

The convergence of technology and the automobile has unleashed innovations in safety, navigation, entertainment, and now, health. There are a few key trends driving innovation in digital health in your car: changes in the car interface around personalization and connectivity, the introduction of embedded sensors, and growing consumer interest in health monitoring devices and apps.

This convergence is a welcome juxtaposition to the public health opinion on cars, where they are considered a potential physical detriment to health. After all, people forgo walking or biking to drive, they sit still for extended periods of time when behind the wheel, and studies have shown the act of commuting actually has a negative correlation with happiness. People who drive a lot are often unhealthy—research shows that nearly half of car buyers have back pain and over a quarter are obese.

Leading auto companies are jump-starting the change in health through the car. Ford’s AppLink platform includes a number of applications in the health and wellness category, most recently showing off integration with Medtronic glucose monitors and the WellDoc Diabetes Manager application. BMW and Mini recently demo-ed “Nigel”, a car that employs more than 200 sensors to monitor not just the state of the car, but also your body.

As car makers introduce additional sensors into the car—measuring weight, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, blood oxygen, glucose and seat pressure—new opportunities will open up for digital health entrepreneurs and developers. It is easy to imagine weight sensors integrating with existing consumer services such as Lose It! or Withings. Farther down the line, embedded services that can analyze stress based on numerous biosensors could be used to help alert fellow drivers on the road if a driver is distracted or calm road rage by automatically turning on a relaxing song. Dana Lowell from Faurecia, an automotive supplier, says:

“The future is embedded biosensors in the car that allow for a passive approach to data collection. This is not something the individual has to remember to put on, wear or sync—compliance is a non-issue. It is sitting in your car everyday and letting the data collect itself.”

A new report from Rock Health called Smart Seating highlights opportunities at the intersection of automotive and healthcare, sectors representing over 20% of the U.S. economy. The car is ubiquitous. American households have, on average, more than two cars each, and nearly everyone uses a car. Cars therefore hold the potential to eliminate adoption barriers facing wearable devices that monitor the body—quickly establishing mainstream markets for sensors and applications that will make people not just safer, but healthier.

Malay Gandhi is the Strategist in Residence at Rock Health. Follow @mgxtro

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