Around 28 people in the US die each day thanks to drunk driving, and more than 2% of adults in the US have a DUI on their record.
Companies like Apple want to solve this problem with technology, and recent patents show that they could be closer than you expect. But is it possible that your watch or smartphone could lock you out of your car after having a drink in just a few short years?
The answer is “Yes,” if Apple has anything to do with it.
What Is Apple’s iPhone Breathalyzer Patent?
Apple’s CarKey feature has been around since July 2020, turning smartphones and Apple watches into replacement keys for specific cars from BMW. It’s great for anyone who wants to lighten their load, but this Apple Wallet feature doesn’t do anything to deter drunk driving.
Back in early 2021, an Apple patent revealed the company’s desire to change this. The patent would see iPhones and Apple Watches equipped with an infrared spectrometer. Coupled with data about typical blood alcohol and ammonia levels, these sensors could act as a personal breathalyzer.
Alongside testing your breath against a database, the app would also provide extra tasks if the initial result is inconclusive. This could include basic arithmetic, dexterity puzzles, and reaction time games to see if you are too drunk. But it doesn’t stop here.
Following the 2021 patent, Apple filed another patent for the CarKey tool. Featuring a range of mockups within the Wallet app, this patent shows what the user might see when they use the CarKey tool in the future. These mockups show various screen prompts to show what it might look like when a user tries to unlock their car. You can see the app mockups on the Patently Apple blog.
Seeing as no official announcement has come from Apple, there are a lot of unknowns surrounding these patents. For example, it’s hard to say whether this feature can be turned off or get ignored, or if it will happen every time you unlock your vehicle.
What Does Apple’s Breathalyzer Mean for You?
As with many technical innovations, the impact of Apple’s patents is likely to go beyond the products themselves if implemented. Of course, though, some potential challenges and problems come with the benefits.
How Could Smartphone Breathalyzer Testing Go Wrong?
- Intrusive practices: Many EMTs, truck drivers, and people in other transport professions already have to take mandatory drug tests for their job. Built-in smartphone breathalyzers could be a step towards making it easier to perform tests like this. But this could also lead to intrusive practices from employers and governments.
- Faulty hardware/software: People are more dependent on vehicles than ever before in the modern world. Farming is a great example of this. A farmer wouldn’t be able to work without starting their tractor. Hardware and software faults could prevent access to essential vehicles with a system like this.
- Prohibitive pricing: Existing smartphone breathalyzers can cost as much as an iPhone. While some are much cheaper, Apple will face the challenge of reducing the cost of an accurate infrared spectrometer. Failing to do so could price out customers, reducing the company’s market share.
- Low manufacturer uptake: BMW is the only manufacturer that makes cars that work with Apple’s CarKey tool. And it doesn’t cover the whole range. Apple will have to work hard to ensure that manufacturers work with their technology to make it successful.
These downsides may sound worrying, but they all have easy solutions. As long as the law keeps up, intrusive practices are avoidable. Tackling faulty hardware/software is a simple matter of rigorous testing and customer support. Even low manufacturer uptake is something that Apple has the tools to fight against.
How Could Apple’s Breathalyzer Patents Improve the World?
- Improving road safety: Roads are dangerous, and alcohol and other drugs can make this worse. Preventing drivers from accessing vehicles while under the influence will improve road safety.
- Lowering costs: Bringing technology to the mass market is one of the few ways to reduce its cost. If Apple works to create cheaper infrared spectrometers, other fields will get to enjoy the improved value. This has the potential to provide hospitals, laboratories, and schools with tools that used to be unaffordable.
- Legal matters: Forcing drivers to prove they are safe to drive before unlocking a car is a great way to improve the law. Police will spend less time chasing drivers, and people will be able to fight charges. All with science-based evidence.
Predicting the future of developing technology is notoriously difficult. It is hard to say what benefits Apple’s recent patents will bring, but it is good that they are raising drunk driver awareness.
Will Apple Stop You Drunk Driving?
The prospect of technology like this will be exciting to most people, but you need to temper your expectations. Companies often file patents as a way to protect ideas that they might work on in the future. This means that, until Apple announces something, Apple Wallet users will have to look after themselves on the road.
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