Glucose monitors with voice feedback for diabetics. Heart-monitoring seats for patients with hypertension. And voice-controlled access to location-specific pollen counts for those living with asthma and allergies. If Ford and its partners have their way, there may be a "health-caring" car in your future with these features, and that's likely to be just the beginning.

Last spring, Ford trumpeted its entry into healthcare as part of a press event at its Dearborn headquarters where it announced collaborative efforts with (www.medtronic.com) Medtronic (continuous glucose monitoring system), (www.sdihealth.com) SDI Health (informational asthma and allergy system and (www.welldoc.com) WellDoc (mobile health integrated services). (For more, see the 5/23/11 Perspectives blog, “Coming soon: Cars that care about your health.”

Ford’s Global Manager of Interiors, Infotainment and Health & Wellness Research Gary Strumolo told reporters then that cars are "natural devices for engagement" and "Ford wants to create cars that care." And Ford CTO Paul Mascarenas described the car as "the ultimate setting for health and wellness activities."

Those themes were repeated recently at the January International Consumer Electronics Show, where Ford reaffirmed its commitment to developing "caring cars" by announcing three more partners via an alliance with Microsoft, Healthrageous and BlueMetal Architects. The alliance was unveiled during the "Doctor in Your Car" keynote address at the Digital Health Summit at the International CES.

The goal of the alliance is to figure out how to extend health management into the personal vehicle in a nonintrusive fashion. The prototype system was designed by (www.bluemetal.com) BlueMetal Architects.

Using information collected from blood pressure monitors, activity monitors and glucose meters along with behavioral data shared by the user, (www.healthrageous.com) Healthrageous fosters healthier lifestyles by helping people shed unhealthy habits.

(www.microsoft.com) Microsoft’s contribution is to translate robotic sensory information provided by the vehicle into an application that also provides a voice and touch-screen interface, while integrating biometrical data that come from a wearable device.

(www.ford.com/sync) Ford Sync allows this all to be done hands-free.

So exactly how will “health-caring” cars work? The system captures biometrical and vehicle data as the basis for real-time health and wellness advice and monitoring. The driver provides voice inputs, detailing important aspects of health routines—such as the number of glasses of water consumed during the day, or pills taken.

The data received from driver are then uploaded into the HealthVault cloud, at which point they are transferred to Windows Azure. The information is processed with other health data, which are used to create graphical reports the driver can access after having left the vehicle.

In case this leaves you questioning Ford’s strategy, consider the following findings from a Pew Research research study:

  • 93% of those surveyed said they seek out online health information because it’s convenient – they want to get information on their own timetable, not the doctor’s.
  • 83% said it’s because they can get more information from the Web than they can get from their own doctor.
  • 80% said getting this information privately is important to them.

Moreover, beginning last year, medical and healthcare was the third-fastest-growing category of smartphone apps, with more than 17,000 available for download. And by 2015, some 500 million people are expected to be using mobile healthcare apps.

Little wonder why, then, Strumolo used CES to repeat his mantra about Ford seeking to develop "cars that care," this time adding that this will prove to be "a natural role for automobiles in the emerging digital health and wellness field." For more on the alliance, see the 5/23/11Perspectives blog, "Alliance places Ford in lead for in-car healthcare."

Then, if you care to share your thoughts, send yours to joe.jancsurak@penton.com.