Feds Seeking ‘Wearable Alcohol Biosensors’ to Track How Much Americans Drink

$300,000 challenge to create real-time monitoring of alcohol consumption

March 2, 2015

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is offering up to $300,000 for the creation of bracelets that can track how much Americans drink.

The federal agency issued a challenge on Monday for individuals and businesses to invent a "wearable alcohol biosensor" that shows a person’s blood alcohol level in real time. The government envisions a device that can be worn by Americans "in the course of their daily lives."

"Current technologies for real time monitoring of alcohol consumption, used in criminal justice applications, have performed adequately, but have disadvantages for broader use," the NIH said in a notice announcing the challenge in the Federal Register.

The NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) said it wants a device that can store data on how much a person drinks.

"The device should be inconspicuous, low profile, and appealing to the wearer," the notice said. "The design can take the form of jewelry, clothing, or any other format located in contact with the human body. A non-invasive technology is preferred."

The NIAAA said that the device should be able to take faster readings than current technology, which only provides "alcohol monitoring" every 30 minutes.

"We are seeking a solution that improves on this interval and most closely approximates real time monitoring and data collection," they said. "The device should be able to quantitate blood alcohol level, interpret and store the data, or transmit it to a smartphone or other device by wireless transmission."

"Data storage and transmission must be completely secure in order to protect the privacy of the individual," NIAAA added.

The government will accept submissions between now and Dec. 1, followed by a judging period in January 2016. First and second prize winners will receive $200,000 and $100,000, respectively, and will be announced in February of next year.

The NIH said the creation of an alcohol biosensor will "advance the mission" of the NIAAA, which seeks to curb alcoholism and abuse.

"The advent of alcohol biosensors that can be worn discreetly and used by individuals in the course of their daily lives will advance the mission of NIAAA in the arenas of research, treatment, and rehabilitation," the notice said.

"The NIH believes that this challenge will stimulate investment from public and private sectors in the development of functional alcohol biosensors that will be appealing to individuals, treatment providers, and researchers," it said.

A panel at NIAAA will judge submissions based on accuracy of data collection, functionality, safeguards for privacy, and "appeal and acceptability to wearers."