The world is in your pocket. Your phone can just as easily give you turn-by-turn directions around Minneapolis as it can help you navigate any other part of Minnesota or the U.S. It’s also the handiest source of music, movies, games, messages from friends and family, calls and much, much more.
Get ready to add another useful feature to the lengthy list. By detecting and analyzing changes in the way you walk, your phone can tell if you have had too much to drink and then alert you that if you drive, you could be arrested for DWI.
That’s the claim made in a recent study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
Pockets of computing power
“We have powerful sensors we carry around with us wherever we go,” lead researcher Brian Suffoletto, M.D. said, adding that we should put that power to use to give us real-time, useful information about alcohol impairment.
For the study, researchers recruited 22 adults from age 21 to 43. In a lab, participants were given weight-based mixed drinks (it takes more alcohol to get a heavier person drunk) calculated to achieve a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .20 percent. (Note: in Minnesota, the DWI threshold is .08 percent.)
Then hourly for the next seven hours, the volunteers did two things: had their BAC tested and then performed a simple walking test (each participant was outfitted with a smartphone secured to their lower back with an elastic band).
Each volunteer took 10 steps in a straight line, turned, and walked 10 steps back. As they did so, the phones measured walking speed, as well as three kinds of movements: anteroposterior (forward and backward), vertical (up and down) and mediolateral (side to side).
A high level of accuracy
By using the collected gait data, about 90 percent of the time, the phones correctly identified when volunteers’ BAC exceeded .08 percent.
Said Suffoletto, “This controlled lab study shows that our phones can be useful to identify ‘signatures’ of functional impairments related to alcohol.” He said this study “provides a foundation for future research on using smartphones to remotely detect alcohol-related impairments.” He said his next study will include tests involving phones held in hands and carried in pockets.
He estimates that within five years, people will “get an alert at the first sign of impairment” and be able to avoid drunk driving.