Picture the scene: you’re sitting in your favourite hostelry, imbibing on your favourite tipple and chewing the fat with that friend who you’ve not seen since before Christmas. You’re both having a fabulous time when, all of a sudden, you notice the clock, and the fact that both your glasses are empty. Time for another, however, the vision of tomorrow morning’s commute rapidly moves into focus.
It’s decision time – do you call it a night and head for home? Or do you throw caution to the wind and march onward towards last orders and risk the next morning’s woolly head, blood shot eyes and everyone avoiding you at the watercooler because you smell like a brewery?
With the exception of the one in five teetotallers out there, this is a scenario that most people know all too well. However, now there is a solution of the horizon in the form of the latest technology within the wearables wristband market – which to date has produced a number of devices that can measure a variety of parameters, from the more common exercise trackers to wristbands that monitor levels of sun exposure in order to reduce the risks of sunburn.
BACtrack, a company that specialises in breathalysers that can connect to your smartphone, has developed a wristband that features an electrochemical sensor and proprietary algorithm that can monitor an individual’s TAC (Transdermal Alcohol Content). Alcohol is detected and measured with transdermal monitoring, which tracks the ethanol molecules escaping through the skin (as regularly as once a second) – the sensor connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone app that displays the information to the user, so you can basically tell how drunk you are.
The advantages of this device are clear, as the question of whether or not someone has had one too many has formed the basis for many a disagreement over the years. As we all know, when people drink, their judgement becomes impaired (which includes telling how drunk they are), while at the same time, confidence tends to rise – a dangerous combination. And, whereas modern breathalysers can tell you if you’re over the legal limit to drive, they are still very much a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ device and don’t give you much of an indication of precise levels and whether or not a hangover is in the offing. The bracelet also has the potential to provide more reliable and accurate data to researchers and as an alert system for the families of alcoholics who are trying to stay sober. In addition, if it’s the morning after the night before, the device will also be able to tell the user if they are over the limit to drive (without the need for a breathalyser).
The BACtrack Skyn offers up to date readings of blood alcohol concentration levels and charts which show those levels changing over the course of an evening. In addition, if you’re in a bar enjoying yourself and forget to check the device, it can be pre-programmed to send a notification to your smartphone if the recommended 0.04% BAC (blood alcohol content) level has been reached (notifications can also be sent to other family members).
Back in May BACtrack was awarded as the winner of the top prize in the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) ‘Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge’. “We are thrilled to win the Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge. We’re excited to bring BACtrack Skyn to market to aid researchers and treatment providers in collecting more reliable data and ultimately, make advances in healthcare treatment,” said Keith Nothacker, President and CEO of BACtrack.
“At the same time, we want to do for wearable alcohol monitors what we did for breath alcohol testers. Early on, breathalysers were big and bulky and only available for law enforcement. BACtrack made breathalysers low cost, sleek and a safety product that anyone can and should use. We have the same vision for BACtrack Skyn,” concluded Nothacker. BACtrack has not yet announced the retail price of the bracelet but it is expected to be available in limited numbers by the end of the year.
While the benefits of this device are clear, are there any potential downsides? The price point of the BACtrack Skyn will be key. If it’s going to be eminently affordable, could the bracelet potentially spawn a new breed of lager lout? The amount of alcohol one can consume has long served as a badge of honour within the drinking culture of, particularly, young men in the UK. And, if everyone has a device which measures this consumption, could we see groups of young men using the bracelets as drinking competition officiators to see who is managing to sink the most beer whilst remaining upright???? Which is obviously not its intended function.
In addition, is there a danger of putting too much faith in technology? The accuracy of the device will be vital as the last thing society needs is people blaming their drink driving or drunken disorderly charge on a faulty wearable.
However, if the BACtrack Skyn has a similar impact on our drinking habits as devices like the Fitbit has had on our exercise regimes then it could prove vital in providing us with accurate information so we can make a correct and sensible decision. The BACtrack could prove to be the voice of reason and the angel on our shoulder the next time we’re in the pub and we’re asked: “Are you having another one?”