Ford’s Effort to Design a Car That Knows When You’re Stressed

Driving is sometimes long stretches of boredom punctuated by brief moments of terror. Things can be completely normal, going down the same road you always drive, and then conditions turn treacherous quickly and you need all your attention focused on the road to stay safe. And then the phone rings.

Ford is researching ways to make the car more aware of how the driver is feeling and when they might need some sort of assistance. In the case of the ill-timed phone call, a driver-aware car could switch a connected phone to “Do Not Disturb” mode for a minute or so, until things even out and it’s safer to answer a call (hands free, of course).

Ford Biometric Seat

But cars aren’t the most empathetic things around. How do you build a car that knows how the driver is feeling? The Biometric Seat project is studying ways to put sensors that keep track of a driver’s physical condition into the car cabin. The steering wheel has metal contacts that can monitor the driver’s heart rate through their hands, while other sensors track facial temperature and compare it against ambient temperature as it looks for spikes that would indicate sudden stress. The seatbelt is equipped with a piezoelectric sensor to track breathing rate. All of these things are brought together to help the car understand when the driver is experiencing bad moments on the road.

Ford Driver Workload Estimator

This information is combined with other data the car is constantly monitoring, such as road and traffic conditions, how the driver is working the wheel and pedals, speed and many other factors, to help the car understand when the driver might need additional help to keep safe. That help might be delaying a phone call, or it could be more involved. Another possibility is that if the driver’s stress goes up, and the car’s external sensors recognize that it’s surrounded by fog that might be obscuring road markings, those markings can be displayed on the windshield through a heads-up system.

This is still a research project, with no immediate plans to bring it to market, but the Ford engineers involved say it’s not science fiction – all the elements are completely feasible, it’s just a matter of integrating them in the best way and putting together something that could be offered in production cars. Which means your car might know how you feel and do things to make you less stressed sooner than you’d think.