Unobtrusive Breath Alcohol Sensing System

Although the vast majority of vehicle drivers are sober, drunk driving remains to be a major contributor to fatal accidents. Massive deployment of unobtrusive breath alcohol sensing systems could potentially save tens of thousands of lives worldwide every year by preventing drunk driving [1]. The work reported here is ultimately aiming at such a system. The technical performance of the present sensing system with respect to automotive requirements is summarized, and new results towards unobtrusive breath alcohol determination within vehicle compartments are presented.

Breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) can be determined unobtrusively if (i) the sensing system provides real-time signals with adequate accuracy corresponding to the local concentrations of both alcohol and a tracer gas, e g CO2, (ii) the dilution of the breath is not excessive in relation to background concentrations, (iii) the sensor location can be seamlessly integrated into the interior of a vehicle cabin. All three of these aspects are addressed in the present paper.

More than a hundred prototypes based on infrared spectroscopy were fabricated and subjected to automotive qualification tests in the full temperature range -40 … +85⁰C. In the majority of tests, adequate performance was noted. Measures are now being taken to fill remaining performance gaps. Test results with human subjects were positive and in accordance with expectations with respect to physiological variations. In-vehicle tests showed that for the best sensor position, passive breath samples allowed BrAC to be determined at a resolution of 2-4% of the US legal limit, providing proof-of-principle for unobtrusive testing. Nevertheless, vehicle integration remains to be the major technological challenge to the objective of deployment on a large scale of unobtrusive driver breath alcohol determination.

The feasibility of unobtrusive breath alcohol determination in vehicles, and adequate performance of a sensor system based on infrared spectroscopy have been experimentally demonstrated. The alcohol sensing system may advantageously be integrated into vehicles, and may also be combined with other technologies to monitor driver impairment.