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This smart digital 'tattoo' is one you'll actually want to get when drunk

(Image credit: Claus Rebler / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Drink driving accounts for about 14 percent of road deaths in Britain every year. Alcohol reduces the ability to see distant objects, reduces reaction times and causes people to lose peripheral vision, making it extremely dangerous to combine with getting behind the wheel.

But how do you know when you've had enough? Well, a group of nanoengineers at the US National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering have developed a small skin-mounted device that detects alcohol levels from your sweat and can warn you when you're over the limit.

Stimulates Perspiration

“It resembles a temporary tattoo, but is actually a biosensor patch that is embedded with several flexible wireless components," explained Seila Selimovica, a program director for the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

"One component releases a chemical that stimulates perspiration on the skin below the patch. Another component senses changes in the electrical current flowing through the generated sweat, which measures alcohol levels and sends them to the user’s cell phone.”

Easy to Hide

The unit is small, non-invasive and easy to hide - which the researchers say will make it more attractive to those who want to monitor their alcohol intake without being a party pooper. (Note that the intricate design at the top of this post is not the patch in question, but simply used for illustrative purposes.) 

It's also significantly better than other previous devices that tried to do the same thing.

“Measuring alcohol in sweat has been attempted before, but those technologies took 2-3 hours to measure alcohol levels," said Patrick Mercier, a co-senior author on the paper describing the discovery.

"Our patch sends alcohol levels to your smartphone in just 8 minutes, making real-time alcohol monitoring possible, practical, and personal."

The full details of the discovery were published in a paper in the journal ACS Sensors.

Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.