An interview with Gary Strumolo, Manager of Vehicle Design and Technologies at Ford Motor Company
In the past 50 years, which engineering advances have most advanced driver health and wellness? Are there specific innovations that have inspired you as an engineer?
Technologies that have enabled measurements to be made on a person’s physiological condition in the least obtrusive way possible. For example, the introduction of PPG measurements on fitness bands and smartwatches provide us with the ability to monitor a driver’s heart rate nearly continuously without him being aware of it. Infrared cameras can be used to monitor breathing rates and skin temperature. This can lead to a better understanding of a driver’s stress level, which could then be used to make vehicle systems more aware and provide assistance earlier. The introduction of wearables has provided us with great opportunities to understand the wearer and provide information to him or her in a convenient fashion.
Ford has recently announced that it will be adding wearable devices into its ecosystem. If you look at the history of drivers’ wristwatches and apparel, are there some specific products that hint at useful design directions, or is this totally new terrain?
It’s like the Wild West now. New ideas are coming forward at a rapid pace, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with them.
What kinds of data indicate that a driver’s health or mental state is compromised? Are there specific studies or information that you can refer our readers to?
For the average driver, things like heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, galvanic skin response, and skin temperature are good measures to determine stress. For those with particular illnesses, things like blood oxygen level (COPD) or blood sugar level (diabetes) are
critical in case issues arise while driving.
How do you envision Ford’s wearable device and healthcare research fitting into a world of self-driving vehicles?
Pretty well. One example is where the vehicle is “dual use.” That means where during the course of the drive, both the vehicle and the human will be driving. One issue we consider is how to alert the driver that he needs to take over, particularly if he’s sleeping. We first need to determine that he is indeed sleeping, and not just listening to music with his eyes closed. Wearables might be able to provide us with that information.
How much about driver’s health and mental well-being can be determined by data science and how much requires introducing a new piece of hardware into the equation?
Measuring things like drowsiness might require some new technology—perhaps an easy way to measure EEG, for example.
Who was the most influential mentor in your career? Was there a specific professor who helped you gain the skills you apply at Ford today?
Actually, what I do today is far from what I was trained to do at college—my degrees are in computer science and mathematics. Perhaps what is most important is to retain a curious mind, always asking questions about why things are done in a certain way, and to be open to new ideas, even if they contradict your own.
What engineering problems make you lose sleep at night?
How to ensure that an autonomous car can correctly react to every possible thing thrown at it on the road.
What advice would you give to an undergraduate student who aspires to become an automotive engineer?
The car has become a computer on wheels. It’s a high-tech item that has great opportunity for innovation, from how to operate it to how it can communicate with other vehicles and the cloud. The only thing holding back further breakthroughs is your own imagination. Let it run free in this area and you’ll be satisfied with the results.
In this video, Gary Strumolo speaks to how people are affected emotionally and physically by the devices and services in today’s digital world. The presentation was given during the “Returning to your Senses” session at the 2013 Go Further with Ford Trend Conference.