Harken has come up with one of the earliest and most promising designs, creating a product that combines the flexibility of textile wearable sensors with traditional car components. The result is an entry in smart seat belts that makes driving safer for the average worker or parent. With a number of companies working on “driverless cars” and smartphone apps for your car, it was only a matter of time before we began to see smart devices for the car.
Harken stands for “heart and respiration in-car embedded non-intrusive sensors” and the organization responsible for that mouthful is a European Consortium, funded by the EU and composed of numerous businesses, ranging from a German elastic manufacturer to the University of Manchester.
The goal is to keep drivers from falling asleep at the wheel, a problem that continues to plague our busy world despite the abundance of stimulants and loud radio stations. Harken skips these dubious remedies and goes straight to the source – the human body. The product is a combination of a seat cover and seat belt that use combined sensors to monitor vital signs, specifically heart rate and respiration patterns. The sensors pass along the data to a processing unit that looks for patterns and danger signs.
When the sensors are actively monitoring your driving habits, the system can watch for signs that indicate approaching sleep, like slower breathing or a falling heart rate (this could also indicate a number of other medical conditions). In response, the system can be set to sound off an alarm to help wake the driver up, hopefully in time to prevent an accident.
The Future of Harken & Smart Seat Belts
So, does Harken have a market? That probably depends on the deals that it makes with automakers — which could offer a significant amount of revenue for the project. Think of the money that freight vehicle manufacturers, for example, would be willing to invest in equipping all their trucks with a Harken device – money that could potentially be regained through falling insurance rates. A market among individual consumers may also be possible if versions of the device can be bought and equipped on the average car.
However, there’s a long way to go before we see a product on the shelves or in the showroom. The consortium has completed controlled tests on closed courses. Next the smart seat belts enter a real-world development stage where the product is used on the streets, a valuable indicator of its commercial viability. If it does reach the market, it could help prevent what Harken estimates are 100,000 annual crashes related to fatigue in the EU…before making its way over to the U.S.
The Advance of Car Technology
While the Harken device on its own says a lot for smart car technology and the resulting safety it could bring, the advent of smart seat belts also signals a larger trend in car automation and sensors. Harken isn’t the first to explore even seat-related systems – back in 2012 Ford started a biometric seat project that offered similar readings for similar purposes.
Other companies are taking a more direct route. Honda is creating what it calls an intelligent driver support system, which can actually monitor the road and help keep the car centered in case of unusual activity. This sort of system requires much more advanced sensors that can track the road and its boundaries. Those who have children may be more interested in the smart car seat developed by TOMY International. This seat, costing around $300, has sensors for motion, angle and temperature, all designed to monitor an infant’s health. If the sensors detect any danger signs, the seat sends an alarm to a parent’s smartphone.
In other words, the smart car market is heating up, and that means a lot more than just self-driving cars and fancier dashboards. Smart auto devices are making traditional driving a lot safer for you and your loved ones. Keep an eye open for new features as well as aftermarket devices that can help make your ride a better one.