This Competition-Winning Wristband Tracks Blood-Alcohol Content Via the Skin

May 24, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Skyn, a blood alcohol detect you wear on your wrist
Photo credit: BACtrack

Worn like a Fitbit, the $200K-winner monitors users’ sweat.

At the end of last week (May 19), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) announced the winners of its Wearable Alcohol Biosensor Challenge — and a device called BACtrack Skyn locked down the first place spot.

The competition is designed to challenge participants to create an easily wearable monitor for alcohol research studies as well as tracking personal drinking.

BACtrack is a San Franciso-based company that makes breathalyzers for both law enforcement and regular folk, but its new device “Skyn” won the $200,000 grand prize for a different type of blood-alcohol content (BAC) monitoring — a wearable wristband, similar to a Fitbit, that can measure BAC in real-time from a user’s sweat.

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George Koob, the head of NIAAA, told Reuters that he expects the device to be a valuable resource for the alcohol research community.

“It can help doctors accurately measure a patient’s drinking history, and not just depend on the most recent tests," Koob said. "This can help a lot with the treatment.”

How does the Skyn device work? It uses fuel cell technology to measure a person’s BAC levels via skin. However, since the device detects ethanol through skin instead of blood, it can take about 45 minutes for alcohol to be transmitted through the skin, so the researchers say it’s not meant to replace the breathalyzers or blood tests used in law enforcement.

A plus-side to the Skyn device is that it can track ongoing changes in BAC levels, as opposed to the one-time recording of breathalyzers. This is why it could prove to be a handy tool for researchers and curious drinkers alike. Not to mention, the sleek design is favorable to the existing bulky devices.

“The blood alcohol monitoring devices used in legal and medical circles are big and bulky, like a ball and chain for the ones using it,” Keith Nothacker, president of BACtrack, told Reuters. “We wanted to make something people would want to wear."

The device hooks up to an app via Bluetooth, and can warn drinkers when they’ve had too much to drive. Additionally, recovering alcoholics could wear the device and set it up so notifications would be sent to family members if it detected alcohol consumption.

Most of the other wearable breathalyzer prototypes in the competition worked similarly to the Skyn device, but NIH reports that one exception was a temporary tattoo that changed colors based on the BAC detected through a person’s skin.

The BACTrack Skyn device is only a prototype, so it hasn’t yet been submitted to the FDA for marketing approval, but the company says that “limited quantities” of the device will be available for pre-order this fall.

Check out BACTrack’s video below for more information.


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