By Matthew Stock
Keeping calm behind the wheel could get easier thanks to a new car seat that actively monitors a driver's physical and mental status to offer an on the move therapy session.
The "Active Wellness" seat is the world's first health-monitoring car seat, according to automotive suppliers Faurecia. It uses a biometric sensing system built into the seat lining that can detect if the driver has a drop in energy levels or is under stress and responds with a specific massage pattern, along with air flow through the seat's ventilation system.
"The Active Wellness seat is Faurecia's vision on the next level of personalized comfort," said Olaf Biedermann, director of innovation at Faurecia. "What we basically do is to monitor respiration rate and heart rate in the seat, and we derive stress and energy level from that. Then, having this kind of wellness being information, we now can offer a closed-loop comfort system; so in case you are stressed you get a relaxation massage, in case you have low energy levels you get a very energizing massage."
Faurecia's team of designers wanted to help people feel better after their journey, compared to when they first got into the car. They realized during the course of its five year development that this meant focusing on each individual in real-time, rather than a theoretical 'average' person.
Teaming up with the Spine Research Institute at Ohio State University in the United States, Faurecia developed tools to measure comfort in real-time and ways to help alleviate discomfort. They also worked with engineers at NASA to review and improve techniques for collecting a person's vital signs with sensors that do not touch the skin.
The non-contact sensors used inside the Active Wellness seat were built by American company Hoana Medical, with Faurecia obtaining exclusive use of this technology for automotive appliances.
"We have a unique technology integrated; it is piezoelectric sensors integrated in the seat cushion. Very simple and robust, and our way to measure the information," Biedermann told Reuters at the Frankfurt Motor Show where the Active Wellness seat was on display.
Combining these contactless sensors with unique algorithms and signal processing produced a system that Faurecia says works seamlessly while the vehicle is moving; delivering real-time monitoring of the driver and offering a bespoke treatment.
"I think the uniqueness in this context is that we use the sensor information and have developed - together with a partner - algorithms to analyze heart rate, respiration, stress and energy information of this information," Beidermann said.
Seat comfort is an important factor for a driver, and Faurecia say the sensing technology inside their Active Wellness seat does not affect comfort or the visual design of the seat. It can also accommodate noise and vibration from the moving vehicle without compromising its effectiveness.
In operation, the Active Wellness seat senses the occupant's heart rhythms and breathing patterns. This data is used to calculate their mental and physical state, with a message appearing on a screen in the cabin offering treatment. If the user accepts the recommendation, they will receive a massage, with a warming or cooling sensation to either relax or energize the individual.
"Basically it's the stress level that we get from the respiration and heart rate information and the arousal or energy level. This is the two information. And we see critical trends of these two indicators; we decide to offer the person or the user either something for relaxation or something to energize," he added.
The Active Wellness seat is also designed to work alongside any wearable fitness device that the user may be wearing. The seating system can synchronize with this data to understand what the individual was doing before entering the car, such as exercising, and provide appropriate therapies.
Faurecia, one of the world's largest automotive equipment suppliers, says their intelligent car seat could be on the market by 2020.