Exactly What the Doctor Ordered: Cars that Monitor Their Own Health and Yours

December 8, 2016

Paul Golata By: Paul Golata
Senior Technical Content Specialist, Mouser Electronics


A big day for me is fast approaching. By the time you read this, that day will likely have come and gone. I went in yesterday to have a final meeting in advance of my Ph.D. dissertation defense.

I have written within an area of advanced technology, specifically on the subject of the relationship between ethics and artificial intelligence (AI)/artificial superintelligence (ASI). I am expectantly nervous and hope to do well, but as one can imagine with this day drawing near, all I have in my mind is the past two years of work going into the exploration of AI.

One of the trends in cars is AI, enabling autonomous driving, such that vehicles can stop in emergency situations before colliding and also arrive at their destinations with less risk and peril for all. To enable this reality, each system must be equipped with control, monitoring, and sensing. 

Arriving back home, after this dissertation defense preparation meeting, I was met by my wife. She received a call that a friend of ours was in the ER. When we arrived to see her, she was feeling pain in her chest, and the attending nurse was drawing blood from her to perform a cardiac enzyme test. Elevated levels of enzymes tell the doctors if the heart has undergone a stress such as a cardiac arrest (heart attack). Fortunately, her test came back okay, and she was given some pain pills to treat it and advised to see a general practitioner for further follow-up. I was glad she went directly to the ER when she felt that she was hurting. I am happy that we as humans can often feel when there is something wrong with us physically and get it taken care of immediately.

As for myself, I could not sleep well last evening, as my heart raced somewhat with nervous anticipation to next week.

Making Cars More Aware of the Human

A few weeks ago I received the MAXREFDES117# reference design from Maxim on my desk. It’s no emergency room cardiac enzyme tester, but rather a low-power, optical heart-rate module complete with integrated red and IR LEDs and a power supply. At its core is Maxim's MAX30102 pulse oximeter and heart-rate sensor, which also has an algorithm to take heart rate and an estimate of arterial oxygen saturation (SaO2), which is a measurement of one’s oxygenated hemoglobin. Maxim and other leading semiconductor suppliers are busily developing small modules to be used in future wearable devices. Biometric sensors, such as the one in Figure 1, are among the applications being investigated for automotive applications, so that the car can be more aware of the human.

Figure 1. The MAXREFDES117#: Heart-Rate and Pulse-Oximetry Monitor, complete with integrated red and IR LED and a power supply. This tiny board is perfect for wearable projects.

Is it possible that my next car will be able to measure my heartbeat when I place my hands on the steering wheel? More than wanting to know if the love of my life is sitting by my side or if I am excited about the opportunity of hitting the gas on the open road in front of me, what car companies want are new ways to increase safety, comfort, and convenience for customers. Biometric sensors will allow new opportunities for humans and machines to interact in practical ways that incorporate the human condition into the response and performance of the car.

What If Your Car Could Tell You How It Feels?

Now, imagine if your car could tell you when it hurts. This car is so technically advanced that it mentions when the batteries aren’t working, or if the fender is dented. For fixes, the car automatically requests a new battery or fender, which is 3D printed, and sent to you. To do so, this car must have advanced monitoring and sensing. 

To make this a reality, thousands of new electronic components must be developed to handle the tremendous amount of information and data that has to be collected, analyzed, and responded to. Innovative microprocessor supervisory solutions are necessary to monitor power and processing parameters to the required levels to keep electronic signals moving in an orderly manner through the automobile. Additionally, new sensor solutions will detect analog conditions from the car’s surroundings, including its passengers, and provide new levels of inputs that can be used to enrich the customer’s experience. The red “check engine” light will be a thing of the past, while the driver of the future will be receiving a constant and ongoing list of critical parameters displayed to them while the automobile itself makes appropriate suggestions and takes corrective actions through sending various messages to the driver.

Getting to the heart of automotive design requires engineering smarter cars that monitor more than their health. They will also move towards integrating direct feedback from all sources, including its occupants. The future of advanced vehicle technology will start to come to know us by heart.

Paul Golata joined Mouser Electronics in 2011. As a Senior Technical Content Specialist, Mr. Golata is accountable for contributing to the success in driving the strategic leadership, tactical execution, and overall product line and marketing direction for advanced technology-related products. Mr. Golata provides design engineers with the newest and latest information delivered through the creation of unique and valuable technical content that facilitates and enhances Mouser Electronics as the preferred distributor of choice. Before Mouser Electronics, he served in various manufacturing-, marketing-, and sales-related roles for Hughes Aircraft Company, Melles Griot, Piper Jaffray, Balzers Optics, JDSU, and Arrow Electronics. Mr. Golata holds a BSEET from DeVry Institute of Technology – Chicago, IL; an MBA from Pepperdine University – Malibu, CA; and an MDiv w/BL from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – Fort Worth, TX. Mr. Golata may be reached at paul.golata@mouser.com.