The minute electronic device accurately determines alcohol blood levels by sampling the wearer’s sweat

During a night out on the town, what better way for individuals to monitor their consumption of alcohol and blood alcohol levels than by wearing a tattoo that can monitor blood alcohol levels? That’s the vision of researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

This temporary tattoo would be capable of helping an individual determine, “Am I drunk or just slightly buzzed. Am I becoming a public nuisance? Am I able to drive right now?” An innovative, cutting-edge device is being designed to help consumers definitively answer those questions.

Clinical chemists, medical laboratory scientists, and pathologists will be interested in the diagnostic technologies used to accomplish this testing. The device is basically a malleable, temporary tattoo that adheres to the skin and induces sweat. It is equipped with a flexible electronic circuit board and a hydrogel patch that contains pilocarpine, a sweat-inducing drug. The electrodes in the device collect a sample to determine blood alcohol content. That data is then wirelessly transmitted to a mobile device, such as a laptop or a smartphone, and provides an accurate reading of whether or not a person is inebriated.

Accurate, Convenient, Quick Way to Monitor Alcohol Consumption

This remarkable apparatus was created by professors and students at UCSD. Their work was recently published in the journal ACS Sensors, a research journal issued by the American Chemical Society (ACS). The primary focus of the publication is to circulate information related to advances in sensor science.

The research was spearheaded by Joseph Wang, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of NanoEngineering (NE), and Patrick Mercier, Assistant Professor of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The two are the director and co-director, respectively, of the UC San Diego Center for Wearable Sensors.

Engineers Joseph Wang and Patrick Mercier at the University of California San Diego have developed a flexible wearable sensor that accurately measures a person’s blood alcohol level from sweat and transmits the data wirelessly to a laptop or mobile device. The device can be worn on the skin and features an alcohol sensor consisting of a temporary tattoo developed by the Wang lab and a flexible printed electronic circuit board developed by the Mercier lab. (Photo and caption copyright: University of California San Diego.)

Engineers Joseph Wang and Patrick Mercier at the University of California San Diego have developed a flexible wearable sensor that accurately measures a person’s blood alcohol level from sweat and transmits the data wirelessly to a laptop or mobile device. The device can be worn on the skin and features an alcohol sensor consisting of a temporary tattoo developed by the Wang lab and a flexible printed electronic circuit board developed by the Mercier lab. (Photo and caption copyright: University of California San Diego.)

“Lots of accidents on the road are caused by drunk driving. This technology provides an accurate, convenient, and quick way to monitor alcohol consumption to help prevent people from driving while intoxicated,” Wang stated in a UCSD news release. The device could be integrated with a car’s alcohol ignition interlocks, or friends could use it to check up on each other before handing over the car keys, he added.

The appliance could also become an important tool for use by police agencies and physicians by providing them with a precise method of non-invasive monitoring of blood alcohol content.

Current Methods/Technologies to Measure Blood Alcohol Lack Accuracy

Currently, breathalyzers are the most commonly used devices to estimate an individual’s blood alcohol content. However, they can give false readings and can be fooled by certain behaviors. Measuring alcohol concentration in a person’s blood is the most precise gauge of determining alcohol level present, but that involves obtaining a blood sample.

Blood alcohol concentration can also be calculated by looking at levels in insensible perspiration (sweat that occurs before it appears as wetness on the skin). But the methods now available to measure insensible perspiration cannot be worn on the skin and can give inaccurate results.

“What’s also innovative about this technology is that the wearer doesn’t need to be exercising or sweating already. 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. Such a device hasn’t been available until now,” Mercier said in the UCSD news release.

The researchers found the test results from the tattoos were accurate even after the tattoos were shaken and twisted in an attempt to trick them.

Talking Urinal Cakes?

Other creative and sometimes whimsical gadgets have been used in the past in an attempt to deal with the problem of drinking and driving.

In 2012, The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning
worked in tandem with the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association to install talking urinal cakes into men’s restrooms in select alcohol-serving establishments throughout the state. The electronic discs utilized both written and motion-activated audio messages to remind men to refrain from drinking and driving.

According to an article in CNET, the audio track on the urinal cakes says in a sultry female voice, “Hey! Listen up. That’s right. I’m talking to you. Had a few drinks? Maybe a few too many? Then do yourself and everyone else a favor. Call a sober friend or a cab. Oh, and don’t forget—wash your hands.”

And, according to an article in TakePart, in 2013, one of the most popular nightclubs in Belgium performed a one-night experiment with a breathalyzer at the exit gate of their parking facility. Club patrons had to blow into a breathalyzer controlling an exit barrier that only opened if the person’s blood alcohol content was within the legal limit. The exit gate would remain closed preventing patrons from driving out of the lot if their blood alcohol levels were too high.

Lastly, as previously reported in Dark Daily, a nightclub in Singapore experimented with a urinal-based pee analyzer to determine whether a person exceeded the legal alcohol limit. When customers arrived at the club, they exchanged their car keys for tags equipped with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) that was unique to them.

When the patrons peed into urinals their blood alcohol levels were detected, read by devices placed in the urinals, and then recorded onto the RFID tags. When an inebriated patron proceeded to leave the club, an RFID reader would convey the person’s blood alcohol level to the valet, who would then attempt to locate or suggest alternate transportation for the individual.

A viable product that accurately measures blood alcohol levels has yet to come to market, even though several gadgets have been tried out. The financial potential of such products is substantial, so new contraptions should emerge as research in this area continues. Meanwhile, the research into these surprising and unorthodox ways to measure blood alcohol levels will continue to intrigue medical laboratory professionals who understand the complexities of doing accurate and reliable diagnostic tests.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Temporary Tattoo Tells You When You’re Drunk

Noninvasive Alcohol Monitoring Using a Wearable Tattoo-Based Iontophoretic-Biosensing System

Flexible Wearable Electronic Skin Patch Offers New Way to Monitor Alcohol Level

The Smart Stick-On Tattoo That Can Monitor Your Alcohol Levels—and Even Call Police If You’re Over the Limit

Too Drunk to Drive? Check Your Electronic Tattoo

A New Temporary Tattoo Will Be Able to Tell You When You’ve Had Way Too Much to Drink

Michigan Installs Talking Urinal Cakes to Combat Drunk Driving

Cheeky Talking Urinal Cakes Join Drunk-Driving Battle

The Only Way to Leave This Nightclub Is to Pass a Breathalyzer

Singapore Nightclub Uses a Urinal-based Urine POCT Device to Screen Patrons’ Alcohol Levels and Discourage Drunks from Driving Themselves Home

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