Automatically adjusting car seat system aims to make driving more comfortable

Topic: College of Applied Sciences and Technology

February 8, 2008

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Ball State~~~s Eric Dugan (pointing) recently met with members of Comfort Motion Technologies to review a new study. The university~~~s Biomechanics Lab is researching the firm~~~s software system that makes driving more comfortable.
Biomechanics researchers at Ball State University are studying the potential of a new software system designed to make car seats and the overall driving experience more comfortable.

The testing involves new vehicle seat multiposition software developed by Comfort Motion Technologies (CMT), an Anderson-based software design firm, and should take about a year to complete.

Designed to enhance ergonomic benefits to vehicle drivers by making subtle, automated changes that redistribute the driver's body weight in the seat, the software promises to reduce driver stress and fatigue. Ball State researchers, along with several graduate students, will thus assess the biomechanical, physiological and subjective responses to prolonged sitting in a traditional car seat compared to CMT software equipped power car seat.

"Modern automotive seating offers significant advancements in comfort and support, but despite these advances, consumers — who spend more and more time in their cars — want more comfort," explained Eric Dugan, director of Ball State's Biomechanics Lab. "So, seat ergonomics remain one of the top concerns of the automobile industry. From a biomechanical standpoint, no matter how well a seat is designed or how well it supports the spine, joints and soft tissues surrounding the spine will fatigue without regular intervals of motion."

CMT's innovative system takes the seat occupant through a series of minor movements in their otherwise fixed position to increase blood flow and reduce pressure on the spine. The gentle changes prevent the driver from having to manually make seat adjustments while also keeping in safe view all mirrors and driving instruments.

Preliminary data collected so far indicates that the CMT seat is effective at redistributing pressure throughout the upper leg, pelvis and back in a 10-way power seat. The company's software earned the endorsement of the American Chiropractic Association in 2007.

Dugan said his staff will examine how various versions of the CMT seat affect pressure distribution by using a typical power seat, as well as 6-way, 8-way and 10-way power seats equipped with the new CMT programming.

Also aiding the project will be Paul Nagelkirk, coordinator of Ball State's exercise science program, who will examine how changes in pressure distribution affect blood flow and the physiological processes of blood clot formation. Health experts caution that prolonged time spent in a static position may elevate the risk of a heart attack or stroke. 

Results of the study may provide valuable information regarding the risk of long-range travel and could have financial implications for the transport and tourism industries, said Paul B. Phipps, CMT's president who attended Ball State. He also is an expert in spinal biomechanics and a doctor of chiropractic.

"We are very proud to work with Ball State on this project because its biomechanics lab is one of the few in the country with the ability to conduct this type of research," Phipps said. "We also are very impressed with the university's commitment to immersive learning and see this as a great opportunity for students to participate in the research of our product.

"This is a great example, too, of how universities can help foster job creation in the state of Indiana by allowing companies to tap into the expertise found on college campuses."

For more information about Comfort Motion Technologies, visit www.comfortmotion.com.

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