Your wearable alcohol monitor is worried about you

A private medical device maker, BACtrack, earned the $200,000 cash prize for the National Institute of Health Wearable Biosensor Challenge this week for its BACtrack Skyn wristband, an alcohol monitor.

This challenge was issued back in March to encourage the creation of wearables that improve the measuring of blood alcohol levels, while remaining discreet.

See also: Could wearables and social media be the future of medical trials?

Officials in law enforcement, the medical field and transportation have long needed a better way to measure these levels, as traditional portable testers that are currently used are large, costly and not capable of offering ongoing monitoring of alcohol levels for individuals. The challenge hoped to produce some better solutions to this problem.

With this in mind, the competition asked for individuals to design and create a discreet, wearable device that could rival the existing alcohol sensor technology currently available. The most commonly used devices are breathalyzers. By creating a better and more easily used device, alcohol researchers hoped to get more accurate information, relying less on participants’ self-reports in studies.

But be warned: This monitor is not a breathalyzer

The alcohol monitor that won is worn on the wrist and measures a person’s blood alcohol content by reading sweat on their skin. An individual can monitor their alcohol consumption and receive alerts on their phone when they are drinking too much. The device can connect to a smartphone or Bluetooth technology, sending information once it is collected.

Unfortunately, this new device does not have the ability to give real-time blood-alcohol level readings. Capturing alcohol breakdown and expulsion via the skin creates a time delay – it takes about 45 minutes for ethanol to make its way out of the body that way. Therefore, it cannot replace devices that are currently used by law enforcement, but for now, this device can only give feedback on recent alcohol use.

 

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