DETROIT – It’s a cruel world out there, but there’s a calming place to get away from it all: inside your car. It will get even better soon.

So say panelists at a 2016 WardsAuto Interior Conference session entitled “Wellness, Personalization and Entertainment.”

Discussing how future vehicle-interior features will do things such as therapeutically soothe stressed drivers, relieve motion sickness and provide concert-hall acoustics are James Hotary, director-xWorks Innovation Center at Faurecia Automotive Seating North America, and Chris Ludwig, chief engineer-automotive acoustics for audio company Harman.

Part of Faurecia’s active-wellness project includes making car seats more than places to sit, Hotary says. “We’re looking at the value seats can provide beyond comfort, not that comfort isn’t important.”

In development are seats with sensors that measure driver heart and respiration rates, as well as detect rate variability, stress levels and states of drowsiness.

“We’re concerned about waking someone up if they are tired and calming them down if they are stressed,” he says. “That is active-wellness 101, but you can get into so much else.”

Ways for the car interior to automatically relieve a stressed driver include providing a relaxing seat massage, lowering the cabin temperature and playing comforting music on the car’s audio system, he says.    

Hotary’s research also centers on providing therapeutic solutions for motion sickness, an ailment that in varying ways affects about 30% of people, usually non-driving vehicle occupants.

With the advent of self-driving cars, the issue of motion sickness may become more acute. “In autonomous vehicles, we’d be taking away the one thing that mitigates motion sickness – driving,” Hotary says.

Faurecia R&D is focusing on what exactly causes motion sickness, how can a vehicle sense an occupant is suffering from it and how interior redesigning can mitigate it. “This is a big deal,” Hotary says.

How does a supplier redesign a car interior, especially an autonomous-car interior, to allay motion sickness among occupants? “That’s what we are trying to figure out right now,” Hotary tells WardsAuto.

“Most of it is currently proprietary, but I’ll give you a sneak peek,” he says. “It has to do with occupant positioning.”   

Upcoming Harman audio systems “will enhance comfort and reduce stress,” Ludwig says. The company is working on four innovative products.

One of them, called a connected jukebox, is a system in which multiple smartphones “talk to each other to create a master social playlist so people can experience audio in a new way,” Ludwig says.

Also in the works is “Voyager,” a portable music device, shaped somewhat like a computer tablet. “You can take it with you and also dock it inside the car,” Ludwig says. “It will particularly appeal to Millennials.”

Another Harman system in development would create individual sound zones in a car. Speakers would go in headrests and the ceiling. The setup would allow vehicle occupants to individually and privately do things such as conduct phone conversations and listen to music without using headsets. Moreover, only the driver would hear a navigation system’s audible directions.

An impending system that replicates the sound of famous concert halls would produce music “that makes the car interior acoustically feel like a much bigger space,” Ludwig says.

Like any automotive supplier, Harman faces its share of challenges and competitive issues. But it has this going for it: “Everyone loves music,” Ludwig says.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com