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Hitachi and Honda develop prototype smart key breathalyser

Hitachi and Honda have collaborated to produce a prototype portable alcohol breathalyser that can be integrated into a smart key.

DRINK DRIVING IS STILL an issue but Honda and Hitachi might have hit on a solution. The two companies have collaborated to produce a portable alcohol breathalyser that could be integrated into a smart key. If the key/breathalyser detects illegal levels of alcohol in the key holder’s breath it could sync with the vehicle and act as an ignition lock, preventing the driver from starting the vehicle.

According to the developers, the prototype is tamper-resistant and can distinguish human breath from alternative gases. It works by detecting the saturated water vapour from human breath and then measures alcohol levels within three seconds. 

The sensor technology was developed by Hitachi, which consists of an oxide insulator1 sandwiched between electrodes. Breath is absorbed by the insulator and electric current flows between the electrodes. The developers say, “This sensor improves upon previous similar devices by being able to detect alcohol to a high degree of accuracy, despite the sensor area measuring just 5mm square”.

The device is also able to measure, more accurately, the ethanol concentration in exhaled breath which apparently makes it three times more accurate than other breathalysers.2 The device is capable of measuring as little as 0.015 mg/L (an ethanol concentration) compared to “0.15 mg/L of the alcohol which constitutes being “under the influence of alcohol” and a charge of drunk driving in Japan”.

Hitachi and Honda plan to bring their technology to market after validation testing, and will present results next month at the SAE 2016 World Congress and Exhibit,which will be held in Detroit, Michigan, USA.

References: 1Oxide insulator: an insulator with metal-oxide such as glass or ceramic; 2 The concentration is calculated by differential evolution algorithm. The algorithm is one of the numerical analysis methods to obtain best solutions for plural unknown parameters in equations.


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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober