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KU CDR students investigate glucose-monitoring car for Bayer

Sunday, September 23, 2012

This fall, students enrolled in ADS 560, an advanced design studio course at the Center for Design Research (CDR), will investigate the integration of Bayer HealthCare’s blood-glucose monitoring technology with the on-board computer system of an automobile.  Wireless technology from Sprint would enable data to be exchanged between the car and cloud-based medical records.

The need to marry glucose monitoring with a vehicle might seem farfetched. But drivers who suddenly experience abnormally low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can become dangerously impaired by dizziness, confusion, delayed reaction times, and visual aberrations.

Despite the danger, a recent study of 202 people with hypoglycemia done by the Department of Diabetes at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh found that 60 percent of respondents did not test their blood sugar before getting behind the wheel. And 77 percent of the group didn’t carry blood glucose meters while driving.

Law enforcement is becoming more aware of the potential problem. More than 20 states in the U.S. ask driver’s license applicants whether they have diabetes. Some require medical exams of those who do, to determine whether they can be issued a license to drive.

But there is still a gap between awareness of the issue and a practical means of improving safety of those who might experience hypoglycemia behind the wheel. Bayer HealthCare is a leader in blood glucose monitoring technology. Merging its medical devices with increasingly powerful in-car computer systems holds great promise for helping diabetic drivers stay on the road safely.

CDR director and professor of design, Greg Thomas thinks cars could produce in-vehicle health reports that would display glucose levels for diabetic drivers. If their blood sugar level became too low, an alert would sound or a signal could appear on the display. Drivers could then stop and eat or drink glucose-rich beverages.

“The project will focus on understanding the behavioral aspects of using such a car, and defining the user experience,” said Thomas. “Drivers need a simple display, and easy way to do the blood glucose monitoring. Data could be communicated between the device and the car using USB ports, or Bluetooth.”

“These cars would not only store the data,” he continued, “but Sprint’s technology could link this information to cloud-based medical services and record-keeping. These could access and update the driver’s medical records, search historic blood glucose test results, and other user-defined data for anomalies. The most important thing is that they could improve safety.”

It is not the first time students at the Center for Design Research have worked with Bayer HealthCare or automobiles. Last fall they designed computer interfaces for Bayer’s Contour® USB Blood Glucose Meter. It is a portable diabetes management device, and the first to feature plug-in diabetes management software.


The CDR has also done several projects for Ford Motor Company, including a “smart” carseat for children. A second project that envisioned new internal controls systems and alternatives to conventional interior car layouts was completed for the company last spring.


“The sky is the limit in terms of using wireless technology to enhance the health and well-being of individuals on-the-go,” Thomas said. “In vehicles, for example, possibilities include customizable dashboards, smart lighting systems, facial recognition technology and even windshields that double as computer touch screens.

“We’re getting to the point, where a lot of the ‘futuristic’ car technologies you see in the movies aren’t that far off in real life,” he continued. “It’s exciting that the CDR and KU are involved in this type of work.”

The CDR was launched in 2011 to foster interdisciplinary collaboration across KU in the area of smart technology and consumer products. The CDR has been especially focused on the areas of distracted driving and automobile safety, as well as wireless technologies that impact health and wellness.

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