A California-based company wants to take the guesswork out of the rhetorical question, "Did I drink too much to drive?" The Breathometer is a small $20 device that plugs into a smartphone's audio jack, much the way that the popular credit card reader Square does, and measures the relative quantity of alcohol in breath as accurately as other consumer breathlyzers. Using the accompanying app, a smartphone can then display BAC or blood alcohol concentration level, which is the legal measure used to assess when someone is driving under the influence.
Blowing one time into the device could help people determine when their decision-making is impaired, possibly avoid a night in jail, and most importantly, save lives.
The Breathometer has a few advantages over other commercially available breathlyzers. Like so many recent smartphone accessories, it relies on the phone to be the brains of the device, which makes it much more compact than other breathlyzers. It also can attach to a keychain, allowing it to conveniently fit in a pocket or purse. When someone pulls out their keys, the Breathometer can serve as a reminder to them or their friends to check their BAC, as opposed to going through the hassle of digging out a separate breathlyzer stashed away in a car. Finally, it also will be made in a variety of colors, including Jet Black, Arctic White, Electric Blue, or Light Pink.
Having launched an Indiegogo project recently to raise the necessary $25,000 to finalize production and raise awareness, Breathometer has successfully received over $125,000 of backing with days still left in the campaign. The company plans to ship preordered devices once it receives approval from the FDA.
Here's their project's video pitch:
As cool as this device is, the real question is whether or not it will actually prevent people from driving while impaired? Breathometer seems ideal for casual drinkers who are at all concerned about getting pulled over while intoxicated, but the best use will likely be for friends to help each other be responsible. After all, one of the more common expletive-free sayings of someone who is drunk is "I'm not drunk," so having them blow into a smartphone can at least allow people around them to know the real state of their condition.
But there's another promising aspect of this device: analyzing breath for other chemical components besides alcohol.
In essence, a breathlyzer is a kind of electronic nose made possible because ethanol is a volatile organic compound (VOC), but other VOCs that can be found in a person's breath, some of which have been associated with disease. researchers have been developing devices to sense VOCs associated with tumors, for instance, so a simple breathlyzer can be used to screen for lung cancer. In fact, breathlyzers will likely be essential to the development of a true Tricorder of the future. Beyond medical diagnostics, an electronic nose could also gauge how bad a person's breath is, perhaps not in a quantitative way but enough that a smartphone could indicate whether you just need a piece of gum or whether it's time to get the Listerine.
As the sensing technologies for smartphone accessories advances, we might even see other chemical noses adopt similar strategies to the Breathometer, such as the Fido detector which senses explosives as sensitively as a dog. A keychain device that plugs into a smartphone that helps detect landmines would be a true game changer in developing countries.
The Breathometer is scheduled to ship in January 2014 and already has more than 3,000 backers.