AUSTIN (KXAN) — Have you had too much to drink?
The way you’re walking is a big indicator — and one day, your smartphone may be able to tell you you’re walking like you’re drunk.
A study released Tuesday in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, tested several participants using sensors that measure acceleration — typically used on cars, ships and spacecrafts — to detect motions of the users’ walks.
For the experiment, 22 adults of various ages — all at least of legal age to drink, naturally — were given a vodka drink that was strong enough to give them a breath alcohol concentration of 0.2%. Phones were then secured onto their lower backs.
Participants had an hour to finish the drink and were then monitored hourly for seven hours, during which they had to perform walks in a straight line for 10 steps forward and 10 steps back.
Of all the behaviors monitored by the sensors, researchers say the most dependable information was found to be variations in “gait.” The detection of gait changes were accurate about 90% of the time, the authors say.
While devices that offer real-time monitoring of alcohol use already exist, the researchers say devices like portable breath analysis are sometimes hard to get because of costs and stigmas associated with having them. But using this type of measurement could be easier to get into more hands, they say:
“Smartphones could offer a convenient and scalable way to measure gait features in the real world. More than 96% of Americans own a smartphone (Pew, 2019), which are almost universally embedded with sensors that allow for inertial measurements of gait.”
The study, the authors say, is “proof-of-concept” — meaning it’s a preliminary test to gather data for work on the project in the future.
The study’s authors say eventually, the technology could hopefully save lives.
Some uses, they say, could be improving treatment for alcohol abuse, for instance, sponsors could remotely monitor people they support and help reduce relapse risks. Binge-drinking or alcohol poisoning could also possibly be prevented.
This is in addition to, most obviously, reducing the risk of drinking and driving, the researchers say.
“I lost a close friend to a drinking and driving crash in college,” researcher Dr. Brian Suffoletto, told CNN. “And as an emergency physician, I have taken care of scores of adults with injuries related to acute alcohol intoxication. Because of this, I have dedicated the past 10 years to testing digital interventions to prevent deaths and injury related to excessive alcohol consumption.”