Fujitsu is working on a steering wheel-mounted drowsiness sensor that will detect subtle changes in the driver's heart rate and respond with various wake-up calls, including opening the windows, blasting the radio and jolting the wheel. Seriously unconscious drivers might get all three at once. (Here's hoping that sheer surprise doesn't send them off the road.)
My first thought when I read about this technology was that we shouldn't encourage tired people to operate large, heavy machinery by making it "safe" to do so. But that's the same argument that was (no lie) used against seat belts and anti-lock brakes, and it doesn't hold water. People are going to do stupid, dangerous things with cars, and most new safety features will let them do stupider, more dangerous things. Unjust? Of course. But these features will save the innocent as well as the idiotic, and the choice is a simple one.
Cars are of course laden with sensors that analyze every aspect of your vehicle's operation in minute detail (the view your dashboard provides is very dumbed down). Adding a few cabin sensors isn't so strange. I heard about one (I don't know if it was ever implemented) built into the overhead light. It, too, sensed heart rate. It was looking for the heart beat of a child undergoing heat stress--as might happen if he were left in a parked car on a summer's day. Not sure what was supposed to happen--horn, windows, doors pop open?--all three at once might make sense. Unless, of course, you're doing 80 and the sensor becomes badly confused. (Don't laugh--an acquaintance of mine had an SUV whose right rear window spontaneously opened half way and then refused to move for months. These things happen.)
The question is, what else can you put in the cabin? Here are some ideas. Road rage sensors (pressure detectors on the steering wheel) could trigger easy listening music from the stereo (which might actually make you angrier, come to think of it) or perhaps a bit of monkish OMing brought from the mountains of Tibet. Another possibility: accelerometers that track how fast you take corners and how often you change lanes--both (I bet) good predictors of accidents. A high, nasal voice (the kind you can't ignore) would lecture you on the importance of road safety...thereby causing you to grip your steering wheel very, very hard...come to think of it. Hmm. Vicious cycle. This isn't as easy as I thought. Perhaps I will leave it to the pros.