Could your car heal what ails you?

Wellness is the first data-driven industry of the 21st century.

What began with step-counters evolved to digital pedometers, heartrate monitoring apps, and smart watches that record a multitude of health indicators.

The future of health technology may come from an unlikely place. After trending towards increasingly smaller items of technology, the next health tech device could be the car.

Many healthcare systems are under increasing pressure as increasing life expectancy leads to older populations, and a rising incidence of age-related conditions.

The cost of looking after a growing grey army continues to make healthcare balloon. The emergence of the wellness industry is, in a part, a reaction to this.

The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the medical space has seen data be used for preventative care, and encouraging lifestyle changes and exercise activities.

Combined with an ever-increasing focus on data-driven processes in the next generation of cars, the two growing industries could provide a novel approach to the looming health crisis.

Japan is often cited as a cautionary tale. Japan’s population has been contracting since 2010 and according to some estimates it is set to shrink by a third by 2065.

As of 2017, more than a quarter of Japan’s population is aged over 65, and it is estimated to reach one third by 2050. Japan’s working age population peaked in 1991, and has been falling ever since.

To deal with an increasingly elderly population, automation has already made inroads in the health sector. In some Japanese nursing homes healthcare robots are not an unusual sight.

Part of Japan’s grandly-named ‘Society 5.0’ initiative, the country aims to digitally transform society to meet the challenges of the future. Automation in healthcare is a major pillar of this policy.

The rise of autonomous vehicles may offer answers to upcoming health challenges. Driverless cars may reduce the occurrence of conditions linked with stress as responsibility is gradually removed from the human in the ‘driving’ seat.

Mobility has also been used to provide blood for transfusions and medicinal drugs, lowered from above by drones, deposited in hard-to-reach areas and disaster zones.

The shift towards healthcare within a private, passenger vehicle is slowly but surely underway. Some seat-belts contain heart rate monitors.

An app which measures heartrate to a medical standard could well be integrated into a car in future, potentially using the steering wheel rather than a touchscreen as the digital point of contact.

While in transit, car users are stationary for long periods of time. The seat could be used to measure weight and other health indicators such as muscle tension. Smart textiles, materials equipped with sensors, could take a user’s temperature.  

As mobility continues its evolution towards an ever-connected and data-driven industry, the opportunity for healthcare applications will grow.

Technology companies who are involved in developing in-car systems already have their eyes on health apps. Google’s DeepMind Health has installed itself in the UK’s healthcare system.

Apple’s Health app works between the iPhone and Apple Watch to share health indicators. Qualcomm Life allows remote monitoring of medical devices. If mobility providers are willing, they could form partnerships, discovering another way to monetise driver data.