Swedish Start-Up Pitches Life-Saving Tech At Detroit Auto Show

By Jeffrey Bellant September 28, 2023
Dozens of innovative businesses were part of the Start Up Arena at this years Detroit Auto Show. Dozens of innovative businesses were part of the Start Up Arena at this years Detroit Auto Show.

DETROITRickard Wahlström, CEO of Emsense Technologies, chatted with visiting media during a press preview event Sept. 14 at the Detroit Auto Show inside the Huntington Place Convention Center. The Swedish start-up, with offices in Italy, joined dozens of other firms lined up in booths inside the event’s Start Up Arena looking for investors. Emsense Technologies’ pitch is a bold one – life-saving tech to prevent deaths in automobile accidents. “Worldwide, you have close to 1.5 million people who die every year in traffic accidents,” said Wahlström. “The comparison is having 260 airline crashing every month, throughout the year.”

Emsense Technologies product looks at accidents at three different stages – before, during and after. In the United States alone, 300,000 accidents occur each year due to drowsiness, with more than 6,000 of those leading to fatalities, Wahlström said. The firm’s radar-based tool can help monitor a driver’s breathing and health status to detect whether a driver is starting to nod off and warn him. Preventing those accidents – before they occur – alone would save many lives.

Rickard Wahlström, CEO of Emsense Technologies. ( image @ J.Bellant/UCN)

The next stage is during the accident. “Airbags and seatbelt tensioners aren’t optimized or everyone,” he said. “Someone who is older, who leans forward when the airbag is deployed – that could actually kill them.” It’s the same issue with a seatbelt pretensioner, which react the same way, whether person is tall and heavy or a younger smaller, lighter child.

This is where Emsense Technologies comes in. “By being able to monitor a person’s posture, movement and body mass, you can either delay or have the airbag deploy a bit quicker or have the seatbelt pretensioner (react) a bit harder or softer to minimize serious injuries,” Wahlström said. But the technology – which uses radar as a contactless health monitoring system – can also help after the accident. “If there is a serious injury – this is the ‘after’ –we can send your health data to rescue services in real time,” Wahlström said.

If you can shorten the time it takes an ambulance to arrive, it can make a big difference in the survival rate, he said. The problem is today, unless the person in the accident is conscious and coherent, emergency services will have no idea about the severity of the accident. “Someone in an accident might downplay the accident, which makes it a bad way to determine the (health status) of the person,” Wahlström said. Any extra information could make a huge difference in saving lives, he said.

Emsense Technologies’ system can monitor the occupants’ heart rate and respiration. If it detects two people in the car, the driver maybe have a heart rate that’s racing, but respiration that looks good. Wahlström said that would indicate that the driver is in shock. However, the passenger might have bad respiration that indicates internal bleeding. When the emergency crew arrives, they can know that the passenger is the most urgent concern, he said. Cardiac arrest is always a big issue before an accident, but accidents can also trigger a cardiac arrest, Wahlström said.  “If that happens (after an accident) you have about 20 seconds before you lose consciousness,” he said. “If you don’t (contact someone) within 20 seconds, you have to rely on someone else. Otherwise, you’re done for.” If more than nine minutes pass, you’re at the point of irreparable brain damage, Wahlström said, adding that an optimal time for a dispatch is seven minutes, Depending on the roads, traffic or if the location is a rural area, that nine minute-window is lost. “By getting information directly from the vehicle data, you can actually reach the ideal dispatching time, doubling the survival rate,” Wahlström said.

Dozens of businesses were part of the Start Up Arena at the Detroit Auto Show.

This technology was developed as the U.S. Congress debated the Hot Cars Act, legislation that was passed as part of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It requires new cars to have an alert to let drivers know there is something in the back seat of the car. The law was proposed to prevent situations where infants are forgotten in the back seats of cars in hot weather. “We knew this was coming, but we wondered how the industry would tackle this,” Wahlström said. The alert only lets you know there is something in a back seat, whether it’s a child or a suitcase. Wahlström said to improve on these technologies, you have to be able to monitor life. “Heart rate, respiration: that is life,” he said. Wahlström felt the Hot Cars Act was only a small use of the technology. “We thought, ‘What else could we use this data for?’ and ‘What could happen if we applied AI and machine learning to it?’” he said.

Using the technology to detect health anomalies – detecting if someone was going into cardiac arrest or having a stroke – could be a game changer. Wahlström said once the company started talking with automakers, the questions evolved into what else it could be used for. “So, it really seems like this is something the industry needs and wants right now, which puts us in an amazing spot,” he said. Wahlström has been working in research and development for the auto and defense industries about15 years.  “I’ve been involved in the development of hardware, and some software, like infotainment systems in cars and the first real good touch displays,” Wahlström said. He also worked on hardware for audio systems.

Since this new tool uses radar as opposed to cameras, for example, to achieve its goals. “With a camera, you can measure some bio-signals, but it’s really tough in a car environment,” he said. “A car is moving all the time, the driver has operations he has to do, so you have movement of the person. All these things add up to more challenges for a camera.”

The other big problem is privacy. “The privacy part is gone if you use a camera,” Wahlström said.

He describes his technology as privacy-preserving. “With radar, we see the vital signs of the person, but we don’t see you as you,” Wahlström said. “We see you as ‘a’ person, not who you are, which puts us in a good place as far as public safety and smart cities monitoring.”

In Europe, using radar can protect privacy but still monitor metro stations, train stations and public restrooms for public safety. For example, seeing if someone is passed out or hurt. For autos, Emsense Technologies would work with suppliers to the auto industry to the technology mounted directly into the seat, or into the dashboard, for example. “That’s the beauty of radar technology, it can see through materials, anything that’s non-conductive,” Wahlström said. It could be mounted into the car via the OEMs, or it could be retrofitted, which could be attractive to the auto insurance market, allowing safe drivers to get better rates, or for insurance claims after accidents to determine liability, he said.

Wahlström wasn’t the only out-of-towner in Detroit as representatives from dozens of other business came from places as far away as France and Australia, representing industries from fleet management to finance.

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Last modified on Thursday, 28 September 2023 12:06