Scanning for drunks in public

Summary:Computer scientists have developed a way to spot drunks using a thermal-imaging camera.

Who needs a breathalyzer when a thermal-imaging camera can verify a person's level of inebriation?

Computer scientists Georgia Koukiou and Vassilis Anastassopoulus from the University of Patras in Greece have developed software that can determine if a person is beyond wasted by using two computer algorithms along with a thermal imaging camera.

Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate at the surface of the skin. The dilated blood vessels can be seen in a thermal imaging camera and will appear as hot spots on the face. So one algorithm measures hot spots from different parts of a person’s face and compares that to values in a database of facial scans of drunk and sober people.

Wired reports:

"A similar method has been used in the past to detect infections, such as SARS, at airports --though a study carried out at the time of the 2003 outbreak warned, 'although the use of infrared instruments to measure body surface temperatures has many advantages, there are human, environmental, and equipment variables that can affect the accuracy of collected data.'"

To increase accuracy on the new system, Koukiou and Anastassopoulus developed a second algorithm that uses a map of the face to measure the temperature of different parts: when inebriated, a person’s nose gets warmer while their forehead stays cooler.

The paper was published in the International Journal of Electronic Security and Digital Forensics.

Wired writes that this new technology "might save police embarrassment and avoid undue disturbances."

But it brings up questions for me. What was wrong with the breathalyzer, which is a few hundred dollars compared to the thousands of dollars it costs for a thermal imaging scanner? Or how about the good old-fashioned smell test or personal judgment?

Maybe we’re just relying too much on computer algorithms when common sense is just as good.

Readers, what do you think about this technology?

via Wired

Photo via flickr/ToGa Wanderings

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Contributing Editor Amy Kraft is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for New Scientist and DNAinfo and has produced podcasts for Scientific American's 60-Second-Science. She holds degrees from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow her on Twitter. Full Bio

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