‘Virtual breathalyzer’ lets you check if you’re over the limit
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‘Virtual breathalyzer’ lets you check if you’re over the limit

Device invented by Ben-Gurion U. researcher, said to be 100% accurate, connects to smart gadgets, measures changes in user’s gait before and after drinking

A police-grade breathalyzer (CC BY 3 Elza Fiúza/ABr/Wikipedia)
A police-grade breathalyzer (CC BY 3 Elza Fiúza/ABr/Wikipedia)

A researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has invented a “virtual breathalyzer” that can be used through smart devices such as phones and watches.

A statement from the university said the readings of the virtual breathalyzer — which works by measuring changes in a person’s gait when they have consumed alcohol — detected intoxication levels with 100 percent accuracy when crosschecked with a police monitor.

“Alcohol distinctly affects movement, gait and balance in ways that can be detected by the built-in motion sensors on devices people carry around with them all the time,” said Ben Nassi, a post-graduate student from the university’s Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering and the device’s developer. “Our system simply takes a baseline reading while walking from the car to the bar and another one on the way back to compare and identify movements that indicate drunkenness.”

Applications based on Nassi’s model for measuring intoxication could be used to alert others, or even a connected car, and prevent users from driving under the influence, the university said.

Ben-Gurion University campus, August 2014. (Dani Machlis)
Ben-Gurion University campus, August 2014. (Dani Machlis)

In the study, Nassi and his team collected test data from patrons at different bars on five nights. They asked 30 participants (60 percent men, 40% women) to measure their walking gait before drinking and then 15 minutes after their last drink — the same standard used for police breathalyzers. Most of the study’s participants were in their early twenties, the age group considered by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to have the highest risk of causing fatal accidents due to alcohol consumption.

Participants wore Google Glass augmented reality glasses, an LG smartwatch on their left hand, a Microsoft Band (a device for tracking fitness) on their right hand, and carried a Samsung Galaxy cell phone in their right rear pocket. Each person walked for 16 seconds until they heard a beep through the headphones they were wearing.

“While the experiment used all four devices to measure movements in different parts of the body, a combination of watch and smartphone readings taken from at least two parts of the body yield similar results,” Nassi said.

Smart wearable devices are a burgeoning market, with 275 million sold in 2016, and another 322 million units forecast in 2017. Researchers are optimistic that within a few years, the breathalyzer app application will be useful for people who routinely use a smartwatch along with their smartphone.

“A system based on our approach could prevent a person from driving under the influence after an alert unobtrusively detects intoxication while they are walking to their car,” says Nassi. “As the Internet of Things progresses, the system could even trigger a connected car not to start when a driver tests above the legal limit.”

Nassi worked with his advisors, professors Yuval Elovici and Lior Rokach of BGU’s Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering on his project.

An article by the university about the device can be found here.

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