Biometrics is essentially the study of identifying people through certain characteristics or traits. The auto industry uses biometrics extensively. Volvo has their City Safety System which scans the road ahead of the car even if the driver is not paying attention and will apply the brakes to prevent accidents.
Mercedes Benz’s Attention Assist monitors the driver to see if they are feeling sleepy and Nissan has car seats that’ll sense alcohol on your breath and even on your skin. If the system detects alcohol levels over a certain amount, it will lock down the ignition while advising you via the audio and display systems.
Ford’s biometric system known as the Driver Workload Estimator; monitors the workload level (stress, feeling bored, etc.) through sensors on the car’s seat, seat belt, steering wheel, and even steering column.
The in-car system gathers the information for the alerts from its onboard sensors, leveraging systems like blindspot detection and lane-keeping assist to detect traffic flow and quantity nearby, adjusting its alert status for the environment. Other sensors, like throttle position and steering position evaluate the driver's responsiveness and attention to what the sensors are seeing and react with alerts accordingly.
How does Ford measure the driver’s heart rate galvanic skin response? Through sensors built into the steering wheel and seat belt. Like common gym exercise equipment, metal plates built into the steering wheel can sense pulse and skin conductivity.
A sensor build into the seat belt can sense the driver's breathing. In addition, infrared can sense changes in body and skin temperature relative to the cabin temperature, reactions that might indicate a change in alertness or agitation, especially when it corresponds with the other sensors' information.
At this moment, these technologies are still in the research stage although Ford has mentioned that they do have working prototypes for them. Ford has not given any time frame for the system to be included in production vehicles.
Photo credit: Ford