The stick-on sensor can present blood alcohol levels within 8 minutes (some other sweat analyzing techniques can take a few hours hours). Image credit: UC San Diego
The stick-on sensor can present blood alcohol levels within 8 minutes (some other sweat analyzing techniques can take a few hours hours). Image credit: UC San Diego
Technology

Temporary Tattoo-Like Patch Sends Alcohol Levels to Your Cell Phone

A small monitoring device that detects alcohol levels in perspiration has been developed by engineers funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB). The device, worn on the skin, was designed to monitor the alcohol intake of individuals conveniently. The engineers hope that this will help reduce unsafe drinking that can lead to violence, vehicle crashes and health degeneration of heavy drinkers.

Computing, electrical and nano engineers at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla collaborated and combined their skills to design the small device that detects alcohol levels. It then sends the information to a cell phone or other monitoring system.

Seila Selimovic, Ph.D., and director of the NIBIB Program in Tissue Chips, explains that although the new technology looks like a temporary tattoo, it is actually a biosensor patch embedded with several flexible wireless components. One of the components releases a chemical that encourages perspiration on the skin below the patch, while another senses changes in the electrical current that flows through the generated sweat. The measured alcohol level is then sent to the user’s cell phone.

The wearable "tattoo" sensor uses a method called iontophoresis to induce perspiration. The sensor then measures the alcohol content and sends data to the cell phone. (Image Credit: American Chemical Society)
The wearable “tattoo” sensor uses a method called iontophoresis to induce perspiration. The sensor then measures the alcohol content and sends data to the cell phone. (Image Credit: American Chemical Society)

In the USA, around 88,000 people die from alcohol related causes each year. This includes the death toll from driving related incidents, which accounted for nearly 10,000 deaths in 2014. This major problem has been addressed by the use of breathalyzers or blood tests administered by law enforcement. The new monitor has the advantage of being unseen by others and non-invasive – features that could make it more attractive to individuals. The researchers believe that these features will ensure that the device has great possibilities for people to self-monitor their alcohol intake. It is hoped that this will result in them avoiding driving if they’ve had too much to drink.

Patrick Mercier, Ph.D. at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering and co-senior author explains the advantages of their technology design by noting that although measuring alcohol in sweat has been tried before, it took between 2 and 3 hours for those technologies to measure the alcohol levels. The new wearable patch sends alcohol levels to the user’s smartphone in less than 10 minutes, making real time alcohol monitoring practical and personal.

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