Car “care”: Health apps for your ride!


DIABETES:  The term "diabetes mellitus" refers to a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood glucose, commonly called blood sugar. Glucose is vital to your health because it's an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It's your brain's main source of fuel. If you have diabetes, no matter what type, it means you have too much glucose in your blood, although the reasons may differ. Too much glucose can lead to serious health problems. Chronic diabetes conditions include type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Potentially reversible diabetes conditions include prediabetes — when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes — and gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy. (Source:

ASTHMA AND ALLERGIES: Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. It causes recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. The inflammation can be trigged by a number of internal and external factors, but the exact cause is not known. The airways then swell and fill with mucus, making it difficult to breathe. Because asthma causes resistance, or obstruction, to exhaled air, it is called an obstructive lung disease. Asthma is one of the most common and most costly diseases in the world, and presently, it has no cure. More than 20 million American have asthma, and managing asthma costs as much as $18 billion each year. In the U.S. each year, asthma attacks result in almost 10 million outpatient visits and 2 million emergency room visits. It also accounts for 500,000 hospitalizations and 4,000 deaths each year.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:   Ford has announced the launch of the first mobile health app to connect to certain Ford models via the car company’s Sync AppLink platform: IMS Health’s Allergy Alert app, which is powered by data from IMS Health’s site. Gary Strumolo, Manager, Vehicle Design & Infotronics, Ford Research and Innovation explained that Ford had architected three ways for mobile health services to interact with its cars: Bluetooth connectivity between the car’s computer and personal medical devices, remote access to cloud services via the car’s computer, and synching up to the health apps users already have on their smartphones.

Allergy Alert was one of mobile health apps that were on display at Ford’s event last year. Medtronic and WellDoc also showed off their wares: Medtronic demo’d a continuous glucose meter (CGM) that connected to the car via Bluetooth and allowed users to hear alerts about their blood glucose readings instead of having to fumble with their monitor’s screen while driving. WellDoc demonstrated its cloud-based DiabetesManager service, which could encourage drivers to double check their blood sugar right when they get behind the wheel if they had a low reading earlier that day. More recently, Ford Motor announced that it had built on its in-car health monitoring initiative by teaming with Microsoft and Healthrageous to research how people can monitor their health and promote wellness with connected devices while in their vehicles. The number of allergy related apps is on the up and up. Allergy-related apps, like IMS Health’s Allergy Alert, are an emerging and fast-growing subcategory of iOS health apps. (Source:

Gary Strumolo, Manager for vehicle design and Infotronics and Global Manager for interiors, Infotainment, and Health and Wellness Research, talks about the development of new technology for our cars that may help to keep us healthy.

Why did you think it was important for people to be able to monitor somebody’s health issues while they are driving?

Gary Strumolo: Well, in one way we want to expand the notion of automotive safety. If you ask the person on the street what automotive safety is, they would say crash worthiness. How does a car perform during a crash? How many air bags does it have? What are its star ratings? The reality is that most people go through their entire driving lives without ever being in a serious auto accident, but if they have a chronic illness they suffer from that every day of their lives. So if we really want to address the issue of automotive safety and safety in general, for people with concerns that they have on a daily basis we need to address those chronic illness concerns.

Start with diabetes and asthma, why are they the main focus for this kind of test-drive?

Gary Strumolo: Because they hit the greatest population. In the U.S. alone there are 26 million diabetics, and the diabetic rate in the U.S. is growing at twice the global average. There are 60 million sufferers of asthma and allergies. So those are 2 very big hitters and we thought those would be the appropriate ones to address first.

Talk about the technology a little bit. How did you tweak this and kind of make this work with Sync, with voice, and with Well Doc?

Gary Strumolo: Sync is a connectivity system that enables you to take devices that come into the car and connect them through Bluetooth. So it enables you to access them and use them in the vehicle. It was a natural technology for some of the things that we are bringing in. There are 3 ways that we can bring technology into the car. One is to build it in directly, the other is to bring it in, and the third is to beam things in from the cloud. So what we looked at were ways to use those techniques. The diabetic application is through Medtronic. Medtronic makes a continuous glucose monitor which not only gives you your current blood sugar level, but which way it is trending. Both pieces of information are critical because you need to know if you are heading towards a problem in advance so that a corrective action could be taken. Since the device communicates through Bluetooth, we saw it as a natural pairing with Sync. So in the future instead of having to fumble to look for your device and see your reading, you would simply press the Sync button and ask for the reading and it would give you that reading verbally while you maintain your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.

Can you beam straight from the monitor?

Gary Strumolo: That is the goal. The device which communicates already wirelessly between the monitoring device and the pump, that we would then continue that communication to the car itself.

We talked a little bit about the fact that some of these hypoglycemic events might not be registered or talked about, but this could, even if they are not registered or talked about, help cut down on them.

Gary Strumolo: Absolutely. If you go hypoglycemic, you know the conditions are blurry vision, confusion, lightheadedness; those are problems if you are just sitting in your living room. They are really problematic if you are operating a vehicle, not only for yourself but for others on the road. We think it is important for people to have the peace of mind to be able to say that I can check on my condition at any time without compromising my safety or the safety of those on the road with me.

You are still building on this system for the diabetes. With the Well Doc app, the car will actually give you examples of what you need to do to get your blood sugar up?

Gary Strumolo: That is right. Well Doc services are essentially a personal healthcare coach which operates in part through your phone. Because it does and Sync can connect to your phone, again it was a perfect opportunity for us to leverage that technology. With Well Doc, you can make sure that you are following the regimen that you have agreed upon with your primary care physician, and we spend a lot of time in our cars. The Department of Transportation in the U.S. estimates that commuters spend about 500 million commuter hours per week in their vehicles. That is a lot of time that you are in your car. It is an opportunity for you to leverage that time and to maintain your wellbeing.

Is the goal overall for the diabetes monitor to be Bluetooth connected to the monitor to the car?

Gary Strumolo: Right.

With the asthma application, what is the goal with that?

Gary Strumolo: Well again, because so many people, 60 million in the U.S. alone, suffer from allergies and asthma it is important to take beamed in information from a cloud. There are many apps on your smart phone. If you look in the Apple App Store or the Android Marketplace, you will see that there are literally thousands of health and wellness related apps. This is a way in which we can again use App Link, which connects those apps to your car, to leverage that capability. The first one we looked at was Allergy Alert. What Allergy Alert does is it gives you your pollen level, as well as your asthma, cough cold and UV indices. So when you get into your car, if you suffer from pollen, and many people do, you can find what that estimation is not only for the day but for 4 days ahead. Then you can plan what you need to do; if you have to get extra medication, you can do that. The car could also intelligently monitor that and maybe turn the recirculation air mode on, keeping the pollen laden air from getting into the vehicle. Then we can go even one step further. If we know the air quality in the area then we could fundamentally change the notion of what a navigation system does. Today, a navigation system does 1 of 3 things. It gives you the shortest route, the quickest route, or the most fuel efficient route, but imagine that you could ask for the healthiest route. If it knows the air quality around the area and knows where you need to go, it could route you around areas of bad air quality. It might take you a little longer to get there, but your lungs would appreciate the difference.

What other possibilities are out there?

Gary Strumolo: Our researchers are even looking at monitoring heart rate. Not necessarily to alert the driver that their heart rate is elevated, but to use it as an indication of stress. So we take that piece of information along with what is going on around the car, the amount of traffic that is around him, as well as what the driver is actually doing in the car because we know if he is pushing buttons, how he is using the steering wheel, the gas, the brake, and to come up with what is called a workload estimator. Now with that, we can be intelligent about information that comes into the car. For example, if the workload is deemed to be high and a phone call comes in, we would route that call directly to voicemail. If the workload is very low, then there is no reason why the driver could not take the call. Now the car can be intelligent about managing information, looking out for the driver, and making sure that if he is at high stress level we do not add to it by bringing other information in. 

Is this something that you saw a demand for or is it something you just decided to tackle?

Gary Strumolo: We thought it was a natural extension of the connectivity capabilities of the car. Sync as it exists today is principally an infotainment system: making a phone call, playing music, and so on. As a result, it has been subject to criticism from places like the Department of Transportation. We see it as an enabler for driver distraction. With health and wellness, we can change the dialogue on that.

It seems like a natural route because that is something that you really have not seen out there yet.

Gary Strumolo: No, no one has really looked at this, but it is a tremendous opportunity. People are very concerned with their health and wellbeing. It is as personal as one can get. There is a lot of business involved in maintaining and monitoring your health and wellness so why should you not do that in the car particularly when you spend so much time in the vehicle?

Do you see other car companies following suit?

Gary Strumolo: Some other companies are looking in a research vein. For example, Toyota is looking at some research for monitoring heart rate as well on the car. We are not quite sure what they want to do with that; to alert the driver to potential conditions. One thing we want to make clear: we are not trying to turn the car into a medical device. We are simply enabling the owner of the vehicle who may have medical devices with them to access them in a safer way so that they can keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

Any idea when we might start seeing some of these things pop up in cars?

Gary Strumolo: Sure, they vary depending on the application. The Allergy Alert has just been released as an app in the Apple App Store. Something like the continuous glucose monitor will take a bit longer because you have to go back to the FDA to inform them that the device has been modified a bit because of the Bluetooth connectivity and to make sure that from their standpoint nothing significant has changed on it. The Well Doc is probably in the middle because it already exists as a product, and so we just need to be able to hook into it through Sync like we do with our normal phone.




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