With just your sweat, a new skin-level wearable technology can measure your blood-alcohol level in minutes with discretion. The wearable is a temporary tattoo. The creators of this technology, engineers from the University of California at La Jolla, funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) believe they can save lives with this device.
This writer isn’t so convinced. As a guy who’s been behind the wheel in a questionable state more times than he’d like to confess, I’m equal parts fascinated and skeptical.
For most active drinkers (a hat this guy retired several years ago) the choice to drive after drinking is poorly considered. In fact, it’s considered about as much as the helpful advice from a friend recommending you don’t drive.
Advice coming from a wearable weighs even less than the advice of a friend. Those who would drink and drive find ways to do it despite the best efforts of their friends and even their former, more sober selves.
It’s hard to imagine a temporary tattoo carrying any weight on this matter.
How This Device Works
From the outside, the device looks like a temporary tattoo, but it’s much more. This is the “fascinated” part. It’s a biosensor patch, embedded with flexible components, which work wirelessly.
The patch stimulates perspiration on the skin, then measures the electrical current flowing through your sweat. That data goes to your smartphone, letting you know your intoxication level.
Compared to a breathalyzer, the tattoo is discreet. You could wear it below your clothes, checking the updates like checking for texts.
The idea is that users would be more apt to use this than say, one of those breathalyzers that hang on the walls of some establishments.
How Alcohol Affects the Brain
Here’s the rub. One of the first places alcohol goes is a part of your brain that’s connected with decision-making. You’re immediately impaired against making the best choices.
Thus, many people who go out to socialize with the best intentions, still make bad choices before the night is done. The more they drink, the more impaired their decision making. Add to that, the less capable they are for operating a vehicle.
The other more likely scenario is they won’t heed the advice of a wearable. If someone is hellbent on driving after he’s already had a few, he won’t heed any the advice of anyone or anything.
Anyone who’s been to a bar that offers breathalyzing knows, the only people who use those things are drunks who want to see how loaded they are just for kicks.
Those planning to drive steer clear of the truth. They adopt the, “I’m probably not as drunk as half the people on the road,” mentality.
Why it Won’t Work
When this technology hits the market, since it’s still in the R&D phase, it will be curious to see how many people adopt it. This is where I hope I’m wrong. I hope it works.
That said, the same person who would keep their intoxication private, preferring to check levels on his smartphone rather than take a breathalyzer, would be less inclined to admit he shouldn’t drive.
What may happen is, he may slow down long enough to recover some sobriety before closing time. In the experience of this writer, that is a thin segment of the drinking population.
There is also a fly in the ointment…
Using sweat to measure intoxication mandates the body process the consumed alcohol, which puts a delay on the data. The user will always be minutes behind the reality of his intoxication.
The best advice for drinkers is not to drive when they plan to drink. I was once such a pro at drinking, it made more sense to not own a car. I sold it. That way public transit was my only option.
For those who wouldn’t go to such extremes, best to take a cab, bus or train to the bar. If you drive to a party, give your keys to someone else when you arrive, someone responsible. Plan to come back for your car the next day.
Regardless, this wearable is miles from the market, so don’t plan to use it anytime soon. It’s a novel idea, though, one that we may see someday. Let’s all hope it works better than I predict.