App-Driven breathalyzers have broken into the market, using connected car technology to provide a vital safety solution.
By: John Faulkner
Point Zero Eight. That’s not the name of a new action movie, but the maximum alcohol limit in all 50 states. Exceed it and get caught driving? Your life will change significantly. Wreck your car and injure someone, or worse? Your life will never be the same. Having fun at a bar or restaurant with your friends is one of the great enjoyments of life. However, the thought of getting behind the wheel after too much drinking creates one of life’s scariest moments. We’ve been made fully aware of the consequences, whether through the “Don’t Drink and Drive”, “Know When Enough Is Enough”, or “Buzzed Driving Is Drunk Driving” public service campaigns, or the severe financial and legal penalties that accompany drunk driving convictions. The connection between alcohol and automobiles is prevalent in our society, whether it be in the form of motor sports sponsorships or taking the responsible step to find a designated driver when out on the town. Now, we’ve come upon the advent of app-driven breathalyzer sensors and apps that work with all smartphones. App-driven breathalyzer sensors first hit the market in 2013. They operate similar to the devices law enforcement uses: by blowing into a device for five to ten seconds, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will be revealed. The challenge has been to adapt it to a small, affordable, portable, consumer-friendly device that delivers accurate readings, can be mated to an app, and can be used by more than one person. However, the three devices we found at International CES 2015 offer much more. The two most established brands are Breathometer and Alcohoot, with Floome set for a mid-2015 launch. The retail price for each brand’s top products are about $100, and can be found at retail locations and on-line. There are two technologies used in breathalyzers to measure BAC — a Fuel Cell Sensor, or a Semiconductor Oxide Sensor. Fuel Cell sensors are very accurate and used by law enforcement, the military, employee drug testing clinics, and substance abuse centers. This technology uses an electrochemical process (oxidizing the alcohol in the breath sample and converting it into an electrical current) to measure BAC. A Semiconductor Oxide breathalyzer uses a tin dioxide sensor process that also measures BAC. It is less expensive, but also less accurate, than a Fuel Cell breathalyzer. For long-term reliability and accuracy, the Fuel Cell technology is recommended. All three companies offer similar products with a few unique twists. Each company has a password protected app with a profile page. After entering your gender, age, weight, height, and date of birth, you are ready to use the devices to check your BAC. Breathometer might be the most recognizable brand, especially if you are a fan of the ABC program, Shark Tank. In 2014, Breathometer’s Founder and CEO, Charles Michael Kim, went on Shark Tank and accomplished the rare feat of landing all five Sharks as investors, for a total of $1 million. Sharks Mark Cuban, Daymond John (who we interviewed for our Winter 2014 Issue), Lori Greiner, Kevin O’Leary, and Robert Herjavec have all played a role since their investment, according to Breathometer VP of Marketing Brian Sturdivant. “Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary are very supportive and frequently provide guidance,” Sturdivant said. “Shark Tank changed the public’s awareness of breathalyzers in general and Breathomoter specifically, creating a demand that took many months to fulfill.” The product that drew the interest on Shark Tank was Breeze, a wireless breath analyzer using Fuel Cell technology that connects through your smartphone headphone jack and measures BAC. The Breathometer App provides features such as: Back To Zero, which calculates how long before you are likely to be sober again; Stay Nearby, which provides information on local restaurants and hotels if you hang out or spend the night based on your BAC results; and Get Home Safe, which connects you with Uber, a taxi, or one of your contacts, including your designated driver, for a safe ride home. The Breathometer App also integrates with Apple’s HealthKit, so your BAC results can be tracked with other personal health and wellness information. The second device on Breathometer’s platform is a bit lighter: Mint can detect dehydration and bad breath. Alcohoot came on the market in December 2013 and has been the most aggressive in working with the alcohol industry to create consumer awareness campaigns. “We don’t endorse drinking and driving, ever. Our product is there to help people make smarter decisions after they have been drinking,” company spokesman Christopher Ayala said. “When someone realizes their alcohol level is too high, Alcohoot becomes another data point to help them decide to call a cab.” Alcohoot entered into separate public awareness programs with JP Wiser Whisky (“The Celebrated Driver”) and Heineken (“Do You Know Your Number?”) to promote responsible drinking. The campaigns were activated in bars in select markets to combat the harmful use of alcohol. Alcohoot’s app also helps you locate a taxi and call your friends, but concentrates more on helping you discover your personal limits and the confidence to make responsible decisions. Lastly at CES, we came across Floome, which will be available at retail stores mid-2015. Using policegrade Fuel Cell technology, Floome has the sleek modern look one would expect from Italian designers. The technology is compatible with all smartphones by plugging into the headset audio jack, eliminating the need for recharging. The Floome app can call a taxi, find a restaurant, and contact your friends to help you as well. ■