Blood alcohol content (BAC) monitoring is not the same as taking a breathalyzer test or even drawing blood to determine BAC. Monitoring keeps a record of alcohol content over time; a blood test or breathalyzer only gives a BAC score for one moment in time. Breathalyzers and blood tests are often used in traffic stops or immediately after accidents to determine whether someone had a BAC high enough to be considered impaired, based on the laws in the state or country where the test is taken.
BAC monitoring, however, has much wider — and often more benign — range of applications. For example, someone might want to keep their BAC under a certain level, not just to stay below a legal limit, but also to stay clearheaded. If a person has issues with alcohol and wants a continuous record to share family members, friends, or a therapist or other healthcare professional, an accurate BAC monitoring system could be a great help.
BACtrack sells a range of professional grade and personal breathalyzers — both stand-alone and smartphone based — that give an instant blood alcohol reading. The company recently won the $200,000 first prize in the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) “Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge.” The BACtrack entry is called the BACtrack Skyn.
The BACtrack Skyn is currently in prototype version only. It’s a wristband with electrochemical sensors on the inside worn next to the skin. The device works by measuring transdermal alcohol content (TAC) in sweat. The wristband sends the information continuously via Bluetooth to a smartphone where it is converted to a BAC reading and then transferred to cloud storage. The Skyn device isn’t useful for on-the-spot BAC tests because it takes approximately 45 minutes for alcohol ingested to work its way through the system so that it shows up ethanol molecules through the skin. It’s not going to replace a breathalyzer at traffic stops, but it can be useful for longer term adherence to a sobriety program or for someone who just wants to be careful. You can set limits for alerts with Skyn, for example, so that your phone vibrates if your TAC reaches a certain level. To monitor someone’s sobriety, the software could be set to notify if the TAC exceeds 0,00 percent.
BACtrack Skyn will be available in limited quantities in Q4 2016. For more info or to get on the list for the first production run, visit the Skyn website. It will also be interesting to see if this sensor technology shows up as an additional function in other bands or smartwatches in the future.