BACtrack, a private device maker from San Francisco, won the first prize worth $200,000 at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Wearable Biosensor Challenge on Thursday for BACtrack Skyn, an alcohol monitoring device in the form of a wristband which uses fuel cell technology and measures blood alcohol levels in real time through sweat produced by the skin.
The device takes 45 minutes for ethanol to be transmitted through the skin with the help of transdermal monitoring, which tracks the ethanol molecules escaping through the skin. It then provides the users with a recent history of their blood alcohol content (BAC) with BACtrack’s proprietary algorithm. Consumers can buy it for themselves for self-monitoring and even for other close family members or loved ones to keep a check on their drinking. This way they can keep a record to show doctors later where exactly they stand. The device also warns consumers if they are drinking too much, particularly when driving. This information proves to be extremely useful and beneficial in order to avoid road accidents and drunk driving.
Dr George Koob, the head of the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, talks about how this is a breakthrough moment and that the device is going to be a valuable resource in the field of alcohol research. He states that ‘It can help doctors accurately measure a patient’s drinking history, and not just depend on the most recent tests.’
The president and founder of BACtrack, Keith Nothacker, speaks about the wearability of this device and how it is designed in a way that people would want to wear it. It is not big and bulky or a ball of chain as is often observed in legal and medical institutions. Nothacker says that he wanted to shift the attention from ‘Hey, we have a problem’ to ‘This is cool and something I want to wear’. BACtrack Skyn is sleek and suave in appearance, fits on easily and has been designed in two colors — platinum silver and black — so far.
The device is rechargeable and uses a micro USB port. It involves proximity sensors that tell you that the device is on and measuring your blood levels. It then transfers the results over to your phone through electrochemical sensors and connects to your smartphone through a Bluetooth chip. The results include raw data, time as well as the temperature. You can even record your sessions and adjust sample rates ranging from every two seconds to every 30 seconds. You can even set an average number of samples by recording many sessions and then getting an average value of just one sample.
Nothacker also speaks about how initially he and his team were confused about which body part to use as a sensor. They considered putting the device on a sock or on the side underneath the clothes but kept coming back to the wrist spot after testing. The wrist served as the best spot for real time monitoring in minimal time, from the time a person drinks till the time results are calculated, not to mention a greater user experience overall.
The product has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yet and still needs to be submitted. The company has also not mentioned the cost of the device but will announce the price by the end of this year. Registrations have opened up by signing on to BACtrack’s official website for pre-ordering. As there will only be a limited quantity of Skyn devices available, customers will get a notification informing them that the device is ready for pre-order.
BACtrack beat seven other smaller companies competing in the challenge to win the first prize. A technology based start up in Santa Barbara, Milo, came in second for designing a wearable alcohol content tracker using a skin sensor and smartphone to carry out communication.
BACtrack has been associated with alcohol testing catering to general consumers for 14 years now. They sell their services and products to businesses, hospitals, clinics, schools, law enforcement personnel and even to the military. Some of the retail brands associated with BACtrack are Cosco, Walgreens and Best Buy. They launched the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer in 2013 which tracked blood alcohol content by syncing it through a smartphone. It allowed a person to store his or her results and view the information with the help of graphs to get a clearer picture. A person could even tag drinks, add photos and notes to each reading and share the results with friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. For this device they won two awards, the Popular Science’s 2013 ‘Best of what’s New’ award and the Edison award for industrial design. In 2014, they collaborated with Apple’s HealthKit, resulting in even more positive benefits for the company by gaining better insights into the effects of alcohol consumption on overall health.