Imagine this scenario. You’re at a bar with some friends. Final exams recently concluded the 2016 collegiate school year, and it’s time to blow off some steam. Drinks go down quickly. As the night comes to an end, you feel okay to drive.

You get behind the wheel. Your BAC (blood-alcohol concentration) isn’t too high, so you operate your car fairly well. Confidence is riding high that you’ll return home without incident. Then it happens – out of nowhere, blue lights.

What you don’t know is that the officer approaching your vehicle already knows you’re intoxicated.

It took several years of refinement to make the technology work for civilian application. Tonight happened to be its trial launch. And you’re the first catch.

The officer explains how he determined alcohol’s presence in your vehicle, and the new technology he’s using to get drunk drivers like you off the road. Stunned, you curse nerds near and far.

Sound far-fetched? It’s not.

A device built at the Institute of Optoelectronics at the Military University of Technology just might be the technology that ends drunk driving forever.

In a study sponsored by the Polish National Centre for Research and Development, Jarosław Młyńczak, Jan Kubicki and Krzysztof Kopczyński developed a device that allows police officers to remotely detect the presence of alcohol in a moving vehicle. The mechanism uses lasers to detect alcohol vapors in the air of moving cars. Once it detects alcohol vapors, the machine sends an image of the car and license plate to police officers. 

But anyone who has experience with alcoholism knows that drunks are crafty. It seems when technology like this comes around, people find a way to beat it. There are radar detectors to elude speed traps. Sprays that allegedly remove the odor of marijuana in a vehicle. Fortunately, the designers anticipated countermeasures like this.

“From the practical point of view, there seem to be some countermeasures, such as driving with windows open, solar screens on the side windows, etc., that can be applied by drivers to deceive the system. However, such situations are very easily detected by the system, which sends this information to the policeman indicating that the car should be checked. In case of driving with air-conditioning or fans on, the results of measurements will surely be distorted, but it depends on the speed of moving air, which usually is very low and, thus, its impact on the measurements is slight. All the possible countermeasures are very important and have to be investigated, which will be done during the next stages of the ongoing project.”

So it sounds like researchers will craft the device with immunity towards almost any countermeasure. The picture below illustrates how the designed prototype works. Full disclosure: I have no idea how to interpret the image.

 

I foresee two major drawbacks to what I’m now calling the drunk-driver laser catcher thingy. First, there will invariably be constitutional issues. Does a device like this violate 4th amendment protection from unjust search and seizure? I’m going to venture a guess and say no. If it’s okay for Rin Tin Tin to sniff around your car without a warrant, it’s probably within the law for cops to setup a drunk-driver laser catcher thingy.

Second, what about drivers high on drugs? This device can’t detect narcotics. Maybe it can end drunk driving. But stoned drivers won’t have to face its wrath.  

When can we expect to see a gadget like this deployed by law enforcement? Sooner than you think.

“As far as the commercialization of the device is concerned, the next step would be to make it more compact, robust, and customer friendly, which can be achieved with high probability.”

It seems the researchers are confident they can work out the kinks and develop a real-world-ready model. Good news for the general public. Bad news for drunk drivers.

OR

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