San Diego

Local Scientists Create Temporary Tattoo Senses Blood Alcohol Level

UC San Diego scientists have created an electronic temporary tattoo that can accurately measure a user's blood-alcohol level and send those results to a mobile device.

The flexible wearable sensor, crafted by nanoengineers at UC San Diego, consists of two parts: a temporary tattoo and a portable flexible electronic circuit board, connected to the tattoo with a magnet. 

The temporary tattoo sticks to a user's skin and induces sweat; the device electrochemically detects the alcohol level. Then, the circuit board sends the information to a laptop or mobile device using Bluetooth. 

“Lots of accidents on the road are caused by drunk driving. This technology provides an accurate, convenient and quick way to monitor alcohol consumption to help prevent people from driving while intoxicated,” nanoengineering professor Joseph Wang, one of the work's leaders, said in a statement.

The technology can be integrated with a car's alcohol ignition interlocks, scientists say. Friends could use the technology to check on each other before handing over the car keys, Wang said. 

“When you’re out at a party or at a bar, this sensor could send alerts to your phone to let you know how much you’ve been drinking,” Jayoung Kim, a materials science and engineering PhD student in Wang’s group, said in a statement. He was one of the paper’s co-first authors.

The most accurate way to measure a blood-alcohol level is to prick a finger. Breathalyzers are non-invasive, but may give false readings, according to UC San Diego researchers.  

The wearable device accurately monitors alcohol levels in sweat; results come in within 15 minutes, local scientists say. 

“What’s also innovative about this technology is that the wearer doesn’t need to be exercising or sweating already. The user can put on the patch and within a few minutes get a reading that’s well correlated to his or her blood alcohol concentration. Such a device hasn’t been available until now,” electrical engineering professor Patrick Mercier said in a statement.

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