The time is coming when you'll be able to ditch your Claritin for a "Car-i-tin" of sorts. The Ford Motor Co. plans to leverage its existing SYNC infotainment system to monitor pollen alerts and local weather forecasts as part of its health management services geared toward helping the more than 60 million Americans plagued with asthma and seasonal allergies.
Anyone who suffers from asthma or allergies knows it helps to have a clear understanding of environmental factors and potential symptom triggers such as pollen counts in order to avoid an attack. To sniff out the best allergy prevention applications, Ford worked with experts, including medical device manufacturers, health care management service providers and Web-based medical alert services, to come up with a series of onboard "apps" and phone apps that can be synched up to your ride. Think of it as shnoz control.
"When drivers and passengers are essentially captive in the car, they can use the time they may not ordinarily take to handle their health issues," noted Gary Strumolo, Ford's global manager of interiors, infotainment, health and wellness research, part of Ford's research and innovation division.
To avert itchy eyes and runny noses, the cars will use a variety of tools, including Bluetooth wireless connections, that will allow the cars to share information with medical devices and perhaps even doctors, much the same as it already allows voice activated cellphone connections. Working off the same GPS technology that gives you driving directions and traffic reports, cloud-based applications -– software you can access without owing a physical copy -– will provide instant access to medical services.
Ford is also partnering with www.pollen.com, among others, to SYNC-enable its smartphone Allergy Alert app. This will provide drivers with location-based, day-by-day index levels for pollen; asthma, cold and cough and ultraviolet sensitivity, as well as four-day forecasts. Strumolo speculates the cars might even be capable of planning the healthiest routes to avoid smog and other environmental sensitivities.
Dr. Tania Mucci, senior internal medicine resident at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, thinks Ford is heading in he right direction. "A program that alerts patients when pollen levels are particularly high can remind them to implement some of those avoidance measures such as keeping windows closed and air conditioning on," she said. "Reminders to take medications when pollen levels are high is key because many allergy medications are most effective if taken before allergy symptoms are felt."
And this is just the beginning of Ford's health care cars. The company is exploring a variety of apps and services for diabetics, including glucose monitoring and real-time patient coaching, behavioral education and medication adherence support. Company officials are also figuring out ways to ease driver's stress.
"We already have a chair massage and parking assist feature," Ford's Strumolo said. "In the future the car may be able to monitor heart rate and other stress indicators and it might do things like change the music to help you mellow out."
Ford, which is apparently the only automaker with such "medical" cars in the works, plans to have the mobile allergy sniffers on the road within two years.