Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

A very modern drink diary

How a $200k competition launched by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism sparked the next generation of sobriety bracelets.

Wearable alcohol biosensors

Regular readers will be aware of the London sobriety tag scheme. A sobriety tag is the tabloid short-hand for  the Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirement (AAMR) introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 which allows courts to require an offender to abstain from alcohol for a fixed time period of up to 120 days and be regularly tested, via a transdermal alcohol monitoring device in the form of a ‘tag’ fitted around the ankle, as part of a Community or Suspended Sentence Order. The tag takes 45-48 readings per day of the wearer’s alcohol use.

Here is a picture of the tagging anklet:

Sobriety bracelets

I recently came across the next generation of wearable alcohol biosensors which, interestingly, was stimulated by a competition run by the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

BACtrack Skyn

The challenge set by the competition was to create a device that not only improved on existing technology by providing real-time Blood Alcohol Count (BAC) monitoring, but also came with an inconspicuous design that is appealing to the general public. The challenge stated that the device must be able to measure blood alcohol level, interpret and store the data, or transmit it to a smartphone or other device by wireless transmission.

By offering a $200,000 prize, the NIAA expedited a much more user friendly device:


What can it do?

With BACtrack Skyn, the user can passively track alcohol consumption in real-time.

By syncing with an app on a smartphone or smartwatch, users can get powerful and actionable data. Suggested uses including a user’s phone vibrating to notify that they’re approaching 0.04 %BAC and remind them to slow down their drinking, or in the case of sobriety monitoring, a family member could receive a notification when a person’s BAC goes above zero.

How does it work?

BACtrack Skyn uses transdermal monitoring (via an electrochemical sensor) to track the ethanol molecules escaping through skin. While most consumed alcohol is processed within the body, some escapes through the skin in the form of ethanol. As a result, the device can read this ethanol signal, and use a proprietary algorithm and device calibration to convert the raw response reading to an estimated Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) reading.

Samples can be taken as frequently as every second, can be sent from the wrist device to a smartphone, and if desired, to a cloud server for further distribution.


By making the device much more wearable — out in public most people would assume it was a wearable fitness device — the company has immediately made it attractive to anyone wanting to control their own alcohol use.

By sharing the information with an alcohol counsellor (via the Internet), makes the device a perfect modern drink diary enabling worker and user to find patterns and triggers for use and construct strategies to reduce or drop drinking.

Although the company does not give a price for the device which will be available by the end of 2016, it is described as affordable.

If you’re interested enough to want to know more, the video below is the company’s submission for the NIAAA competition:

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