Wearable tattoo tells your smartphone how drunk you are before the cops do

Researchers say a wearable tattoo can deliver accurate blood-alcohol level readouts to its wearer's smartphone.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The stick-on tattoo can provide a blood-alcohol level result within eight minutes, compared with hours using other techniques that analyze sweat.

Image: UC San Diego

A new sweat-inducing wearable can analyze your blood-alcohol levels and send a readout to your smartphone within minutes.,

The key features of the stick-on sweat-alyzer is that it can be discreetly placed on your arm and provides a readout within eight minutes compared with hours using other techniques that analyze sweat to measure blood alcohol.

Research into the wearable tattoo was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, or NIBIB, and was carried out by a team of electrical-, computer- and nano- engineers at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla.

The researchers hope the device will help reduce drink-related road deaths and violence. And because the device is small and can be tucked under the sleeve of a shirt, it could be useful for people who are trying to control how much drink they consume in an evening.

The patch, which is designed to look like a tattoo, exploits a process called iontophoresis, which is applied in non-invasive delivery of medication, for example, through the skin. However, instead of putting medicine into a body, it uses the process to extract perspiration, which it then uses to measure how much alcohol a person has drunk.

"It resembles a temporary tattoo, but is actually a biosensor patch that is embedded with several flexible wireless components," explained Dr Seila Selimovic, director of the NIBIB Program in Tissue Chips.

"One component releases a chemical that stimulates perspiration on the skin below the patch. Another component senses changes in the electrical current flowing through the generated sweat, which measures alcohol levels and sends them to the user's cell phone," she said.

Wearable biosensors have emerged as a new frontier for alcohol monitoring and measurement. Earlier this year the National Institutes of Health's $200,000 Wearable Biosensor prize was taken by Californian firm Bactrack for its wrist-wearable, the BACtrack Skyn.

While it offered accurate alcohol level readouts using sweat, its one major drawback compared with breathalyzers was it couldn't produce real-time blood-alcohol levels. BACtrack's president Keith Nothacker told Reuters that it takes about 45 minutes for ethanol to be transmitted through the skin, making it suitable for showing recent alcohol use.

Dr Patrick Mercier, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering at UCSD, and co-senior author of a recently published paper detailing the NIBIB-funded patch, contends their creation does enable real-time monitoring.

"Measuring alcohol in sweat has been attempted before, but those technologies took two to three hours to measure alcohol levels. Our patch sends alcohol levels to your smartphone in just eight minutes, making real-time alcohol monitoring possible, practical, and personal," Mercier said.

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