It seems wearable tech items are everywhere. Smartwatches with apps and phone service, activity trackers that monitor exercise, steps and heart rate and even small sensors that can alert the wearer to posture issues or too much sitting. The many wearable technology devices that can monitor almost any bodily function and even track how well we sleep are not sci-fi gadgets of the future, but rather every day items that help us stay healthy and connected. A new device, being developed at Florida International University, can monitor and help manage alcohol intake. Since the brain is affected by alcohol, those drinking might not realize they've had too much. Unlike Breathalyzers, that are used in law enforcement and sometimes as part of probation for those convicted of drunk driving, the sensor developed works by picking up vapors from the skin.
Once the blood alcohol content (BAC) is measured the device sends the information to a server. A family member of the wearer (or counselor, sponsor or other health professional) is sent a text via a smartphone app. This is so those taking care of others who struggle with addiction or have to limit alcohol because of medical conditions, can check in on the user.
Shekhar Bhansali, an Alcatel Lucent professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at FIU invented the device. He explained, “We wanted to create an unobtrusive sensor that would be easy to wear, and help people struggling with alcohol. This is one step toward active intervention that only requires the user wear the sensor.” Unlike ankle bracelets that are used for monitoring those on probation for criminal offenses, the device isn’t obvious, and can be worn under a sleeve if the wearer does not want it to be visible.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 26.9 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking . 7.0 percent reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use. These figures were taken from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2015. Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that raises the BAC to .08 g/dl. That’s approximately 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in the space of two hours. Heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking for five or more days in any given month. The costs to families and the economy of alcohol abuse is significant with the World Health Organization stating that more than 200 diseases and injury related health conditions can be tracked back to problematic alcohol use and/or dependence.
The sensor developed by Bhansali and the team at FIU was entirely designed and built by engineers so that each component is tested and as accurate as possible. It can detect BAC in real time, with levels being displayed as soon as 15-20 minutes after having a drink. Those that struggle with addiction to alcohol are very often not able to accurately self-report their alcohol use. Other applications for the device could be for patients such as liver transplant recipients or those with other medical conditions that require accurate monitoring of alcohol intake. Often in social drinking situations, people don’t realize how much they have consumed. On college campuses, this is often a factor in alcohol poisoning, since younger people are often inexperienced drinkers and might not realize just how much alcohol is in a drink they are handed at a party.
The video below talks more about the device and the impact it might have on drinking and alcohol dependence, take a look.