Wearables that know if you’ve had a few too many

Nearly 90,000 people in the United States die annually from alcohol related issues, making this the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the America. Drunk driving accidents alone lead to nearly 10,000 deaths. Globally, some 3.3 million deaths per year are attributable to alcohol consumption.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets for 2017

Researchers suggest that wearables represent a convenient method for individuals to monitor their alcohol intake. Such devices have the potential to help reduce unsafe drinking that can lead to vehicle crashes and the deterioration of health in heavy drinkers.

Even though this technology is still in its infancy, a few contenders for real-time monitoring of alcohol levels have already emerged.


BACtrak Skyn

This wearable comes from a startup called BACtrack. The San Francisco company recently nabed the top prize in a competition to design a near real-time breathalyser. The $200,000 first place prize was awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

While most consumed alcohol is processed within the body, some ethanol molecules escape through the skin. The wearable is able to read this signal and via BACtrack’s proprietary algorithms convert it into an estimated Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) reading.

Samples can be taken as frequently as every second and be sent from the wrist device to a smartphone, smartwatch or a cloud server. As it takes about 45 minutes for alcohol to be transmitted through the skin, the wearable does not offer real-time tracking. Which means that it can’t be used as a substitute for breathalysers or blood tests conducted by law enforcement. Instead the device is meant to detect and record a person’s recent history of drinking habits.

Reuters reports that company will release a limited quantity this fall. You’ll be able to buy a standalone device, and a version integrated with the Apple Watch band.

To register for updates or to find out more, head over to the BACtrack website.

Although you can’t wrap it around your wrist, BACtrack also sells a standalone gadget that works with a smartphone. This one is available on Amazon. Marketed as the “first smartphone breathalyzer, its receiving great reviews from Amazon customers.


PROOF

Although this device resembles a Fitbit or Garmin fitness tracker, you won’t find a step, calorie or distance count. PROOF tracks your BAC levels through your skin, and nothing else.

It does this thanks to an enzyme-based electrochemical sensor (Enzymatic Electrochemical Sensor), which converts perspired alcohol into BAC levels. The info is communicated back to you via the multi-colored LEDs, and in more detail in the smartphone app. If you had a few too many, you will even get a time to sober estimate. Furthermore, you can set your own alerts and get notified when you’ve reached your designated levels.

The sensors do need to be changed from time to time to ensure accuracy. Each locks in magnetically on the underside of the wristband, and is good for one data point per second over 12 hours of continuous use. The lightweight wearable is made of super-soft silicone, provides secure data encryption and has enough juice to run for 4 days on a full charge.

The company has recently raised over $50,000 on Indiegogo to make PROOF into a retail product. Delivery to backers is expected in December, with the commercial launch likely to follow soon after.


Sweat inducing tatoo

Engineers, funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), are working on new sweat-inducing technology that detects alcohol levels in perspiration and sends a readout to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The small monitoring device resembles a five centimeters long and two centimeters wide stick-on tattoo and is embedded with several flexible wireless components.

One component releases a chemical that stimulates perspiration on the skin below the patch. Another component senses changes in the electrical current flowing through the generated sweat, which measures alcohol levels and sends them to the user’s cell phone. This means the biosensor patch does not require you to sweat because of the mechanism to generate the required perspiration.

The device offers almost real-time monitoring considering the whole process takes less than eight minutes. Their work is reported on in the journal ACS Sensors.

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