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A Sensor to Combat Impaired Driving

The WISe system measures the driver’s vital signs including heart rate and breathing to detect fatigue and possible medical emergencies. The readings are displayed on the car’s infotainment screen.

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Wireless Intelligent Sensing Millimeter-Wave Radar System

A new sensor could help reduce the number of accidents caused by impaired driving and could protect children left in hot cars. The Wireless Intelligent Sensing millimeter-wave radar system, developed by startup Pontosense, monitors vehicle occupants’ vital signs, and it can detect the presence of passengers in the vehicle and where they are seated.

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WISe—The First In-Market Millimeter-Wave Wireless Sensor Used for Vital Signs Measurement

The WISe system measures the driver’s vital signs including heart rate and breathing to detect fatigue and possible medical emergencies. WISe sends out signals with wavelengths short enough to measure the tiny adjustments in a person’s body from breathing and pulse. The signal echo is then analyzed by an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm.

The Need for WISe in the Automotive Industry

“There is an urgent need for this kind of technology,” says cofounder Alex S. Qi, the startup’s CEO. A recent study on the causes of motor vehicle accidents found that fatigue and medical emergencies were the top reasons. WISe is the first in-market millimeter-wave wireless sensor used for that purpose in the automotive industry, Qi says. The system is expected to be installed in several vehicle models in the near future, he says.

How WISe Works

Current in-car driver-monitoring systems require either cameras or contact sensors, but WISe works wirelessly. The system uses RF sensing to capture echos of the micromovements made by the driver’s or passenger’s body caused by heartbeats and breaths. WISe detects changes in the reflected signal’s phase—the relationship between radio signals that share the same space and frequency—to read the micromovements and vital signs. The device—about the size of a coin, with a 40-millimeter diameter—uses less than 10 watts of power.

Challenges Faced During Development

The biggest challenge during the sensor’s development was figuring out how to filter out external noise to ensure accurate readings. To filter out the noise, CTO Yihong Qi developed signal processing software that uses AI to analyze the data. Algorithms clean up the data, generating a clear radar image for biometrics and communicating with the vehicle and the infotainment system if it suspects an issue with the driver or a passenger. The company says it takes 5 to 10 seconds for WISe to detect a change in the driver, such as an irregular heartbeat, and notify the vehicle.

Other Functions of WISe

The system can also warn whether children or pets have been left in the rear seat by reading their vitals. That could prevent heat stroke or death for those left behind in a hot vehicle. WISe can tell the vehicle to open windows or turn on an alarm to notify those in the area of a forgotten child or pet while the car is not running.

The Founding of Pontosense

The idea for Pontosense came about while Yihong and Alex were walking the showroom floor at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. They succeeded in creating the wireless sensor in 2021 and founded Pontosense that year to bring the system to market. The startup, based in Toronto, employs more than 120 people, 25 of whom are on its research and development team.

Raising Capital for Pontosense

Pontosense participated in VentureLab’s capital investment program in 2021. But raising funds wasn’t difficult, Alex says, as Pontosense isn’t his or Yihong’s first company. They’ve founded several other startups, which helped pave the way for the development and manufacturing of the sensors. Their companies include wireless communication device manufacturers Mercku and General Test Systems.

The Future of WISe

“Our goal for this year is to get the device in as many vehicles as possible so we can save as many lives as possible,” says Alex, and they already have that plan in action, with the system expected to be installed in several vehicle models in the near future. Pontosense received an IEEE Hyper-Intelligence Technical Committee Award for Excellence in Hyper-Intelligence last year for “contributions on wireless intelligent sensing systems for human safety in automobiles,” in the industrial impact category.



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