Dr Paul Phipps, chief medical officer and director of research and development at Comfort Motion Global, a provider of motion seating technology, looks at how health, wellness and safety are driving today’s automotive seating solutions
It wasn’t all that long ago that OEM interior designers were on the cutting edge of technology introducing adjustable, motorized seating. Enabling the seats to adapt to the occupant’s individual seating preferences was a big deal. Today, not so much.
While comfort and safety remain front of mind, designers are now keenly aware of the value consumers are placing on their own health and wellbeing – a trend being driven by millennials. As a generation, they tend to be more health-conscious, watching what they eat, exercising regularly and generally more in tune with their overall health.
As such, they, along with an ever-increasing number of older generations, are expecting this wellness lifestyle to be brought into their everyday life, including their daily work and life environment. And while auto makers have come a long way in keeping up with the fickle consumer trends by offering ‘smart seats’, massaging seats promising ultimate comfort, temperature-controlled seats, interior designers are looking forward to the next wave of technology for the future.
Staying ahead of the curve
Designers are working feverishly to incorporate all the scenarios of what the increased role of automotive seating may become, with Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous cars on the horizon. Occupants may be spending more time in their true driverless cars, enjoying different interaction that today seems unimaginable.
With that in mind, they are looking at current and future wellness trends and creating technology that will not only meet the needs of today’s health-conscious consumers, but also meet the needs of the increased role that seating platforms will take to include driving, work and rest postures and improving the accumulative impact of sitting on the occupant’s health.
But at what cost? While millennials, and others, are advocating for increased health and wellness technologies across the many platforms that they experience in their daily lives, are they – and ultimately auto makers – willing to pay a hefty premium to meet the market need for these options? Maybe so if the price of entry is not cost prohibitive and these low-cost solutions can be found with existing technologies.
A proactive approach to the future of seating
A key feature of health and wellness in the car, for both today and in the future, is to decrease the negative impact of repetitive or prolonged sitting. The introduction of motion, not just massaging, to automotive seating is the next significant advance in protecting the occupant from the negative health impact of seating.
‘Proactive’ motion seating technology has several scientifically proven benefits over traditional ‘reactive’ massage seating in that it is designed to preempt tissue fatigue and reduce related discomfort, compared with massage seating that treats the pain that results from sitting in a static position. Massage seating technology also requires additional hardware such as mechanical rollers and pneumatic bladders while never addressing the source of the pain that relates back to remaining in a static position.
Motion seating software can be programmed into any memory seat without adding any additional hardware or weight to the vehicle for this technology, and has a number of advantages that can benefit automotive consumers, not only in the autonomous future, but today. Those benefits include:
- Continually redistributing the occupants body weight in the seat;
- Reducing the specific impact on any single tissue, minimizing tissue fatigue and allowing the natural recovery cycle to work to the advantage of the occupant;
- Improving the circulation in the tissue under compressive load and in general to the legs and feet;
- Having a positive impact on driver alertness and reaction times.
What is clear is that automotive seating will only increase in importance for the car of the future. It is bound to be the focal point of the driving experience. Incorporating the latest health, wellness and safety technologies, some of which are readily available today, will be of utmost importance in delivering the ultimate driving experience for years to come.