Hi-tech health: Ford

Q+A: Pim van der Jagt, managing director Ford Research Centre

  • Click here to read the cover feature about consumer brands using technology to enter the health sector.
  • Low-tech health: ZubaBox and African telehealth, click here to read a Q+A with Anja Ffrench, marketing and communications director Computer Aid, and Fred Mweetwa, chief executive, Macha Works.
  • Click here for an O2 Health case study.

Marketing Week (MW): How did you identify a need for incorporating an electrocardiogram (ECG) seat into Ford cars?

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Pim van der Jagt (PvdJ): We do market studies and look at consumer trends – one of which is a focus on health and wellness. A lot of people spend a lot of time in a vehicle. We thought, how can we make better use of the time?

To sit down and have your heart rate measured will cost you 10 or 15 minutes. If you do it in the car – while you are doing another task – we think there is a market for that.

MW: Did the expertise to develop the technology already exist within Ford?

PvdJ: We have medical doctors in our research centre who work on ergonomics. They have been looking at what else we can bring to the vehicle that could interest the customer. The ECG seat is only one development. There was an idea that came from the medical institute at Aachen University of how we could do contactless heart rate measurement. We tried it out in a seat and, though we have not sorted out all the technical details, if we get it to work, we think there will be an interest.

MW: What will happen to the data collected by the ECG seat?

PvdJ: The car can be pre-programmed to collect the data, so you just get in and have the analysis done. We have no plans to do that analysis ourselves. We will record the data and transmit it to another commercial company that can do the analysis and send reports back.
That is still an open research point. If you measure some critical data, how do you inform the driver? We need to do customer clinics and studies to work that out. We do not want to show them their heart rate while driving.

MW: How reliable is the technology?

PvdJ: We tried it with more than 200 people. It works 95% of the time. If we want to offer it commercially it needs to work 100% of the time. We cannot sell an expensive feature to a customer and find it does not work in his case.

If we cannot get it to work 100% reliably, there are other options, like putting on a wristwatch available from medical equipment suppliers like Siemens. Our new entertainment system, Sync, has an open interface, so for us it is very easy to connect these devices to our entertainment system, transfer data outside to the internet and to other companies.

MW: How does technology provide marketing opportunities in areas such as healthcare?

PvdJ: With Sync you can download apps, just like you do on an iPad. We are thinking what apps could be of interest to a driver, such as an app that informs drivers with allergies about air quality, which we hope to make available soon. They are capabilities we already have and we are applying them to a new area.

Not every app available on an iPad can be brought into the car. Very often the interface is not suited to use in a car. That is the main part of our work – getting a lot of the software and features available in a form that can be safely used in a vehicle. It is a reason to buy our car over another car. Then if people do buy our car, we would like to sell them more features and more apps so they can customise that vehicle.

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