New Phone App Will Tell You’re Drunk By How You Walk

App tells you if you're drunk by how you're walking

Technology marches on. And while it’s marching, it’s being called upon to protect us from ourselves in various ways. It was just 79 years ago that Rolla N. Harger invented the first machine that gave subjects a sobriety test by measuring blood alcohol content via breath testing – in effect, the first breathalyzer. Harger gave it the name Drunkometer.

Since then we’ve developed various ways of gauging intoxication that stop short of poking a person’s vein and drawing blood, an activity which is conclusive but somewhat invasive and unwelcome. Police have a battery of tests they use to judge the impairment of a DUI suspect. The Field Sobriety Test involves observation of a subject while performing set tasks that require concentration and coordination.

Now a professor and students at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts are trying to automate this process, in a way, using smartphone technology.

The key is the motion sensor that’s in every smartphone. Professor Emmanuel Agu and his team are developing an app which uses this sensor to make a record of a person’s normal pattern of movement as he or she goes through the day. Then the app will notice the change in gait when the person is impaired.

The phone could then call a taxi, or even shut off a car’s ignition.

Of course, the Achilles’ heel of this device seems to be that you wear it voluntarily. Anyone who was determined to engage in a night of serious drinking could detach his or her smartphone before downing the first Mojito. But no doubt the developers are working on ways to work around the workaround.

LifeSafer L 250 ignition interlockMeanwhile, there is already a technology in use that keeps people from driving while intoxicated. Normally it’s only used in the vehicles of those who have already been convicted of drunk driving, though it’s available to anyone who wants to protect themselves and others.

It’s called an ignition interlock, and it relies on proven breath test technology. Currently 29 states require all drunk driving offenders to install the devices in their vehicles for a period. More states have all-offender ignition interlock laws in the works, because the devices have been proven to reduce alcohol-related road fatalities.

Technology marches on. We need all the tools we can to keep drunk drivers off the roads. But let’s make sure that we’re making the best use of the ones that are already invented – and working to save lives every day.