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Now Your Smartphone Can Detect Blood Alcohol Concentration

Mayukh Bari26 August 2020 12:06PM IST
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3 min read219

A new study shows smartphones could help detect drunkenness based on the way you walk. It can actually tell you if your blood alcohol concentration exceeds the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of 0.08 percent.

There are many things that influence a person's BAC, including how quickly you drink, your body weight, altitude, how much food you've eaten, whether you're male or female, and what kind of medications you're currently on. Portable breath alyzers can be used to measure BAC, but not many people own these expensive devices. On the other hand, 81% of the total population now own a smartphone.

The author of the study, Dr. Brian Suffoletto of the Stanford Medical School's Department of Emergency Medicine said,

I lost a close friend to a drinking and driving crash in college. And as an emergency physician, I have taken care of scores of adults with injuries related to acute alcohol intoxication. Because of this, I have dedicated the past 10 years to testing digital interventions to prevent deaths and injury related to excessive alcohol consumption.

For this small-scale study, there were 22 participants who visited the lab to consume a vodka-based drink that would raise their breath alcohol concentration to 0.02 percent. Before having the drink, each participant had a smartphone strapped to their back and was asked to walk 10 steps in a straight line and then back again. Every hour for the next 7 hours, the participants repeated this walk.

The sensors on the smartphone measured each person's acceleration and their movements (both from side to side and up and down). Researchers found through analyzing the data that 92.5 percent of the time they were able to determine if a participant had exceeded the legal BAC limit.

Of course, the study had some limitations. In real life, a person is very unlikely to keep their smartphone strapped to their back. Placing the phone in your pocket (or carrying it) could impact the accuracy.

While this was a relatively small study, it is being used as a "proof of concept" marker for further research. Researchers on this project explain that future research would ideally be done in real-world settings with more volunteers. Dr. Suffoletto added,

In 5 years, I would like to imagine a world in which, if people go out with friends and drink at risky levels, they get an alert at the first sign of impairment and are sent strategies to help them stop drinking and protect them from high-risk events, like driving, interpersonal violence, and unprotected sexual encounters.
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