A new “virtual breathalyzer” developed by a Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researcher uses sensors in smartphones, smartwatches, fitness bands and virtual glasses to measure intoxication levels with identical accuracy as police breathalyzer tests.

According to the US Center for Disease Control, in 2013, one person died every 51 minutes in a motor vehicle accident caused by an alcohol-impaired driver.

“Alcohol distinctly affects movement, gait and balance in ways that can be detected by the built-in motion sensors on devices people carry around with them all the time,” says Ben Nassi, the BGU Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering Master of Science student who developed the device that measures changes in gait. “Our system simply takes a baseline reading while walking from the car to the bar and another one on the way back to compare and identify movements that indicate drunkenness.”

Nassi’s trained machine learning model for measuring intoxication could be adapted to applications to alert people, or even a connected car, and prevent users from driving under the influence.

In the study, participants wore Google Glass augmented reality glasses, an LG G-watch on their left hand, a Microsoft Band on their right hand, and carried a Samsung Galaxy S4 cell phone in their right rear pocket. Each person walked for 16 seconds until they heard a beep through their headphones.

Participants measured their gait before drinking and then 15 minutes after their last drink, which is the same standard used for police breathalyzers.

Test results validated with a police breathalyzer detected intoxication levels with 100 percent accuracy.

“A system based on our approach could prevent a person from driving under the influence after an alert unobtrusively detects intoxication while they are walking to their car,” says Nassi. “As the Internet of Things (IoT) progresses, the system could even trigger a connected car not to start when a driver tests above the legal limit.”

Nassi worked with his advisors, Professors Yuval Elovici and Lior Rokach of BGU’s Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering on his Virtual Breathalyzer project.