New health monitor from Safari Rally

New health monitor from Safari RallyFrom John Davenport [ 18/12/2013 ].
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The cars on the East African Safari Classic Rally may originate from an almost bygone era but this year the event was a test-bed for a cutting-edge technology in motorsport safety. The appropriately named ‘Pilot’ system monitors the crews’ heart rate and other vital signs, relaying them live to the Medical Officer to inform any decision they may have to take.

The East African Safari Classic Rally is an event that constantly requires stamina and speed and thus was ideal to trial the equipment’s ability to monitor crew data over long distances. The rally takes its competitors to remote locations and the nature of the event means cars are often some distance apart. If the Medical Officer has to fly to an accident, it saves time by having the key data to hand before the helicopter even lands. In the case of multiple accidents, it would also be very valuable to have the crews’ physiological information so that the Medical Officer can potentially prioritise the most severe incident.

This year the Pilot system was tested by Geoff Bell and Tim Challen in their Datsun 260Z on the last two days of the rally. These days were to prove eventful for the crew who broke a driveshaft on the penultimate day coming into the Taita Hills and then, in a brave attempt to make up time, rolled the 260Z in spectacular fashion on the last day of the rally. At this point the equipment was on co-driver, Tim Challen, and the attached image shows a measure of his exertion (a combination of heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature) throughout the section. As the image demonstrates there is a considerable peak at the location of the roll, which is indicated with the white arrow. In this case both members of the crew were unhurt but the equipment helped to give an assessment of the situation before the medical team arrived.

The system has been developed by East African Safari Classic Medical Officer and member of the FIA Medical Commission, Dr Harjinder Chaggar, together with Marc Smith, Managing Director of yellowcog, a UK engineering company that specialises in wearable and portable electronic sensors.

“The big benefit of testing the Pilot system on this event is that the East African Safari Classic often requires covering long distances to reach the crew in trouble,” says Dr Chaggar. “The device means we have 'telemetry' for the driver rather than just the car in harsh environments and situations where people are physiologically working harder than normal. The heat, altitude, physical exertion and concentration over very long stages and road sections mean that the risk of falling off the cliff, both literally and physiologically, is very high. The Pilot system can allow me to deploy medical services earlier and more appropriately if I have more than one accident at a time. The device will also allow for wireless monitoring if we need to extract the crew from the vehicle, especially if there is an entrapment.”

The Pilot system provided by yellowcog is comfortable and easy to use. The driver or co-driver wear a light-weight garment or chest band and the vital signs such as heart-rate, breathing rate and skin temperature are transferred wirelessly to a matchbox-size device that can be positioned anywhere in the vehicle. The information is delivered via the RMS Competitor Safety Tracking system, provided by Peter Silberberg on the rally, and sent over the communications network, allowing the information to be available in the medical helicopter and anywhere else with internet connectivity.

Many sports routinely monitor the performance and physiological state of their participants but motorsport presents unique challenges. The Pilot system has already been tested and proven in the 2013 Le Mans 24-Hour race and the test on the East African Safari Classic Rally has been just another step forward in demonstrating its value. “We developed Pilot specifically for motorsport,” says Marc Smith, Managing Director of yellowcog. “To provide organisers, medics, teams and crews with real time physiological information. Our system is easy to deploy and improves safety, and we hope it will soon be the norm across motorsport.”