This week, researchers from the University of Southern California will show off their driver-tracking Mini Cooper—dubbed Nigel—at this year’s Body Computing Conference. Nigel is actually a combination of some 230 sensors on the Mini Cooper and an iPhone app that monitors its driver’s habits and even creates specific driving games or suggests activities for each of the car’s drivers.
The idea is that the sensors in the car could be used to track certain aspects of the owner’s health. For example, the smart-car team plans to integrate sensors into the steering wheel that would track the driver’s heart rate. Maybe a driver’s heart rate goes up with miles per hour, or maybe the heart rate slows when a relaxing song is played through the speakers. When people learn what their bodies respond to by watching how their body metrics change while listening to certain music or visiting certain places, they become “unquestionably more sophisticated” in their self-awareness, says Saxon.
“Self-tracking in a car could have its advantages,” says Paul Abramson, a San Francisco physician who integrates self-tracking into his practice. “A car would be a good place to measure people’s response to stress. Being in the car [creates] a constantly changing and stressful environment.”
Joseph Kvedar, director of the Center for Connected Health at Partners Health, has seen firsthand how more body awareness can improve health in patients with chronic conditions. By enabling patients to track their blood pressure, heart rate, and weight at home and wirelessly report their information to their health-care providers, Kvedar and his colleagues have seen the readmission of heart-failure patients drop by 50 percent, he says. “People get so much insight into how their lifestyle affects their health, and having those feedback loops as part of your consciousness puts health care top of mind,” says Kvedar.