Ford's new Wearables Lab wants to make driving your car safer with sensors

Your smartwatch could soon tell your car when you're getting sleepy
Ford's new Wearables Lab experiments

Ford has opened a new Automative Wearables Experience Lab in Dearborn, Michigan to explore how smartwatches and other wearables can make the driving experience safer and easier.

All the big car manufacturers have dipped a toe into wearable tech experiments - BMW, Audi, Volvo - but Ford's research lab signals a move beyond gimmicks.

Read this: Why your car is the next ultimate wearable

Ford's researchers, operating within the Research and Innovation Center, are working on smartwatch apps that can take health data readings (heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels) from the wearable and send this information to the car's driver assist software. So if you're stressed or especially sleepy, your car would know about it in real time.

Another area the lab is looking at is lane-keeping assist. All that means is that your wearable can detect that you didn't get enough sleep last night (so you are likely to be less alert) or if your heart rate increases in traffic. Then the idea is that the adaptive cruise control or Blind Spot Information System could react to allow for more room between vehicles, making accidents less likely.

Away from pure safety features, semi-autonomous cars in the near future could send vibration or LED alerts to a smartwatch when there's an accident or roadworks ahead and the driver needs to take more control.

It's not just smartwatches, either, Ford is also looking at the potential of fitness bands and also smartglasses, in the context of car showrooms. It's also testing out voice commands for its MyFord Mobile smartwatch app, announced back in September.

In perhaps the most ambitious initiative of the lot, Ford has launched a $10,000 prize for app concepts from its employees which use connected cars and wearable devices to help monitor the health of drivers. Submissions open on 20 January and winners will be announced in March.

Cars x wearables

CES 2016 saw a few more wearable tech and car tech collaborations coming to fruition. Namechecking Knight Rider, Volvo teamed up with Microsoft to announce that soon Microsoft Band 2 wearers will be able to instruct their car to lock the doors, flash lights, turn on the heater and set directions via voice controls.

The new features are coming via Volvo's On Call app in spring 2016 though we can't help thinking it would have been more useful to open it up beyond one, niche wearable.

Like Ford and its smartglasses experiments, Volvo also recently announced that it will start using HoloLens in showrooms to explore cars using augmented reality before they buy.

At CES 2016, Audi, which has previously collaborated with LG on the limited edition Watch Urbane LTE, also announced its Audi Fit Driver project coming to Germany first. This uses smartwatches or fitness bands to track the overall wellbeing of the driver, including heart rate and skin temperature readings.

In order to make sure the driver "arrives at their destination more relaxed than when they stepped into their cars", the Audi will bring in driving style, weather and traffic data and modify how it operates to keep the driver relaxed and safe.

That all sounds fairly vague but we imagine it is going down the same route as Ford with its degrees of semi autonomous driving. Safety and driver assistance systems are coming to the connected Audi Fit Driver concept in a later extension stage so look out for more info later in 2016.

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