A HALF-CENTURY since its invention, the Breathalyzer remains
the standard means of estimating blood alcohol content during
traffic stops, even despite issues like inaccuracy and known
subversion methods. UC San Diego is about to break through
with a better alternative to the Breathalyzer—one that will take
your breath away, entirely.
Researchers at the Center for Wearable Sensors have successfully
developed a wearable device that can accurately monitor blood
alcohol levels and send the results to a mobile app in real time.
The device works by using a temporary “tattoo” that releases
the drug pilocarpine to make the user sweat. Sensors in the
tattoo are coated with an enzyme that detects alcohol concentration, and the readings are communicated to the user’s
mobile device via a small electronic circuit board magnetically
attached to the tattoo. Altogether, the process takes minutes to
yield an accurate reading.
The device was created in the labs of professors Joseph Wang
and Patrick Mercier, director and co-director, respectively, of
the Center for Wearable Sensors. Wang’s lab created the tattoo,
which costs only a few cents to make thanks to screen-printing
fabrication. Mercier’s group devised the flexible electronic
circuit board that powers the sensor and gives it wireless
capability. They also developed the corresponding app for the
alcohol monitoring system.
According to Wang, this real-time window into the effect of
alcohol on our bodies can make a profound difference on the
road. “This technology provides an accurate, convenient and
quick way to monitor alcohol consumption to help prevent
people from driving while intoxicated,” he says.
The device could even be integrated with a car’s ignition
interlocks. But for the moment, simplicity is the key. “The user
can put on the patch and, within a few minutes, get a reading
that’s well correlated to his or her blood alcohol concentration,”
says Mercier. “Such a device hasn’t been available—until now.”
The latest tech to make our roads safer.
BY LIEZEL LABIOS, MS ’ 10, PhD ’ 12
Special enzymes detect
which is sent to an
app via Bluetooth.