Driver on a country road
Chalmers and Autoliv are conducting research to develop digital health solutions in vehicle settings. An ongoing project aims to detect driver sleepiness via smart sensors. Photo: Johan Karlsson, Autoliv​​​​

Digital health joins forces with the automotive industry

Higher road traffic safety, better insight into the health status of the person behind the wheel, and increased knowledge of how connected aids and smart services can be applied in vehicles. These are some of the benefits of the emerging collaboration between researchers in the digital health area and the automotive industry.
​​“There are many important interfaces between digital health and the automotive industry that have not yet been explored. From our perspective in western Sweden, we think that the time is right for a joint venture”, says Bengt Arne Sjöqvist, Professor of Practice Emeritus at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Chalmers, who has played an active role in the area of digital health for many years. “The mutual potential of this development has also been obvious within SAFER, the Vehicle and Traffic Safety Centre at Chalmers, where both areas meet.”

Bengt Arne SjöqvistIn this case, the common interest revolves around the measurement, analysis and communication of physiological signals in a vehicle. Traffic safety is in focus, but also to handle sudden acute illness, to follow-up on chronic health conditions or treatments, and to take the adequate actions in the event of traffic accidents.

In a future scenario, if a driver for example suffers from acute heart fibrillation, sensors and intelligent technology built into the car will be able to register and decode the physiological signals and ensure that the vehicle automatically stops on the side of the road, while healthcare services are being alarmed.

In its roadmap for 2025, the European road traffic safety organisation Euro NCAP has identified driver monitoring systems as a priority area, making new technology of that kind extra attractive to the automotive industry.

Building a digital health profile
In order to meet these research challenges, and also the over-all digitalisation trend in health care, the Department of Electrical Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology is gradually developing its profile in digital health. New projects and new skills are being allocated to the area. An example is Anna Sjörs Dahlman, researcher at the Swedish Road and Transport Research Institute, VTI, recently appointed an Adjunct Associate Professor at Chalmers, whose knowledge in measuring vital data in difficult environments now will be of good use.

“Today, our work is mainly devoted to solutions where IT, communication technology and medical engineering are supporting and improving clinical health care processes. By gaining access to relevant information from various sources, we aim to increase the accuracy of every decisions made in a healthcare process. This includes the development of clinical decision support systems based on artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as video and telemedicine of various kinds. At present, the main application areas are prehospital care and mobile healthcare”, says Bengt Arne Sjöqvist.

Collaboration on sleep detection in vehicles
With this in mind, work is now in progress in collaboration with Autoliv, to develop solutions using digital health technology in a vehicle setting. In the COPE project, Connected Occupant Physiological Evaluation, an IT platform is being designed, that focuses on the driver and uses the car as the location for measurements (find more information about the project below).

Stefan Candefjord“To detect sleepiness is the first application we are working on”, says Stefan Candefjord, Assistant Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering. “Sleepiness is the cause of many traffic accidents, and by using new technology we can help drivers to refrain from driving when they are not completely alert. We will soon be able to test the technology together with Autoliv.”

When a person becomes drowsy and sleepy, the heart rate and breathing are affected, among other things. By integrating sensors in the car interior, for example in the seat belt and the steering wheel, the variations in heart rate and respiration can be monitored in real time. Smartwatches and bracelets with built-in sensors, worn by the driver, can also be used to register physiological signals.

“The results are interpreted by an algorithm trained by artificial intelligence, which we at Chalmers have developed in collaboration with Autoliv and VTI”, says Stefan Candefjord. “The system recognises the signs of a person going into drowsiness, thus having an impaired ability as a driver. Data which is collected during the drive can be shared to the cloud, and of course also be used by systems in the car that ensure that the driver, if possible, focuses his or her attention again or gets a recommendation to take a break from driving.”

Smart alarm management the next step
Another research project, where digital health and the automotive industry have joined forces, is the TEAPaN project, Traffic Event Assessment, Prioritizing and Notification (find information about the project below). The IT platform, that now is being developed and tested in the COPE project, will later form a central part of this system.

“This is really exciting projects allowing us to constantly expand our knowledge in new applications”, says Stefan Candefjord. “A success factor is the collaboration that is enabling us to interconnect our areas of expertise.”

Text: Yvonne Jonsson
Photo:  Johan Karlsson, Autoliv (photo on top), Yvonne Jonsson (portrait photo of Bengt Arne Sjöqvist), Emmy Jonsson (portrait photo of Stefan Candefjord)

What is digital health?
Digital health includes the digitalisation of services and working processes in healthcare, as well as the emergence of intelligent sensors, decision support systems, analytic and diagnostic tools, apps, etc. IT technology, including AI and machine learning, is a fundamental part. Thus, the area combines medical engineering, telecommunications and IT, and often requires a close interaction of academia, healthcare providers and industry.

More about the COPE project
Connected Occupant Physiological Evaluation, COPE, is a two-year research project that aims to develop and test smart monitoring of health data in real time with a focus on sleep detection in drivers. Chalmers Transport Area of Advance and Autoliv are funding the research, that is affiliated with SAFER, the Vehicle and Traffic Safety Centre at Chalmers.
Chalmers and Autoliv are researching algorithms and data analysis, while Autoliv has developed the hardware that connects sensors and other technology, as well as the test fleet of cars where the system will be tested.
Read a news article on the COPE project: A technology that alerts if you doze at the wheel​​

Traffic Event Assessment, Prioritizing and Notification, TEAPaN, develops smart alarm management systems for increased traffic safety. The project focuses on early detection of accidents as well as smart and abundant information management for more efficient prioritisation of resources within the public protection and disaster relief, aiming at better care for the injured. TEAPaN is led by PICTA and is carried out in collaboration with the Vehicle and Traffic Safety Centre at Chalmers, SAFER​. The following parties are involved: Volvo Car Group, Consat, Detecht, SOS International, the University of Borås/Prehospen, Chalmers, VTI and the Emergency Healthcare and Ambulance Centre within VGR.

For more information, contact Chalmers researchers in the field of digital health:
Stefan Candefjord, Assistant Professor in the Biomedical electromagnetics research group, Department of Electrical Engineering,​
Bengt Arne Sjöqvist, Professor of Practice Emeritus in the Biomedical signals and systems research group, Department of Electrical Engineering, and Head of Business & Strategy at Prehospital ICT Arena (PICTA) at Lindholmen Science Park,
Anna Sjörs Dahlman, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering and researcher at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI),
Ke Lu, Postdoctoral researcher in the Biomedical signals and systems research group, Department of Electrical Engineering,​
Anna Bakidou​, PhD student in the Biomedical signals and systems research group, Department of Electrical Engineering, and the University of Borås,

For more information about Autoliv’s research, contact:
Johan Karlsson, Senior research engineer, Human Factors, Autoliv Research,

Page manager Published: Thu 29 Oct 2020.