Project Description

I Can’t Blow
First, I want to applaud SOBERLINK. The concept the company has for an M2M/IoT (Internet of Things)-enabled alcohol-monitoring device is a great one for those individuals who need a system like this. It’s apparent to me that these devices are very important and serve a huge purpose, which is why I wanted to review this product in the first place. But candidly, I struggled with this breathalyzer for one main reason: I couldn’t blow into the device—and I wasn’t alone.

Let’s take a step back and look inside the SOBERLINK alcohol-monitoring system first. Designed for aftercare treatment and outpatient programs, licensed professional programs, court-mandated alcohol monitoring, and family law and child custody monitoring, the device is akin to one of those court-ordered ankle-monitoring bracelets that once adorned celebrities like Lindsay Lohan—however it takes a slightly different approach.

The portable monitoring device collects a breath sample to measure alcohol concentration, while simultaneously taking a photo of the individual to confirm identity using facial recognition. As a side note I was not particularly thrilled at how I looked trying to blow into this device as my picture was taken. The word clown comes to mind, but the facial recognition really does its job, and for that reason I have to concede to its benefits over how I looked in these pictures. The fact is I wasn’t able to trip up the system trying to have another person pose as me to take the predetermined breath tests.

From there, the breathalyzer wirelessly submits the test results to a cloud-based monitoring portal, where alerts can be set up to notify contacts if there are signs of a relapse. I deliberately relapsed and the notifications came and they came, until I could prove I was back on track again. The system was serious and so were the constant reports I could monitor of my relapses.

The company offers two different versions, SLBLUE, which uses Bluetooth to send breath tests through an iPhone or iPad, and SL2, which uses a built-in cellular module to send breath tests directly from the device.

I actually tested the SL2. This particular device includes the facial recognition capabilities, a cellular module and transmission on Verizon’s hosted private network, professional-grade fuel cell, tamper detection sensors, and GPS hardware from Telit Wireless Solutions.

A Look Inside: SL2 Specifications

  • Dimensions: 5” x 2.8” x 1.4”
  • Weight: 8.4 oz (238 grams)
  • Battery Life: 5+ days
  • Breath Sample Duration: Four seconds
  • Transmission: Cellular, approx. 60 seconds after test
  • Cellular Carrier: Verizon Private Network
  • GPS Hardware: Telit Wireless Solutions
  • Location ID: GPS or Cell Tower fix
  • Testing: Random or scheduled
  • Participant Alerts: Text
  • Agency Alerts: Text or email
  • Data Gathered: BAC, time of test, location, and photo
  • Firmware updates: Over-the-air

Upon receiving the device, I decided to set up and test the product at a family event. We pulled the device out of the box and set everything up. After a small glass of wine, I blew into it and received a high BAC (blood alcohol concentration). My family members did the same. At first glance, the BAC numbers seemed to be inaccurate, but we quickly discovered a contributing factor is how you blow into the device.

According to the company, the breath sample duration is roughly four seconds. My struggle was correctly blowing into the device—and some of my family members had the same challenge as well.

After blowing I received a .47 BAC score—which was clearly an inaccurate reading, as that high of a score would likely indicate death. After doing some research, I discovered this is due to the vapors in the mouth and incorrectly blowing into the device.

We continued to test throughout the meal and after a little practice we were able to learn how to correctly blow into the device. The BAC level after we waited 35 minutes and redid the testing was .05.

Here is what I like about SOBERLINK SL2: The concept is a great one. The device captures a breath sample, while using facial-recognition technology to identify the individual, and sends the data wirelessly to family members or agencies that need to be notified. I also like that it uses GPS (global positioning system) technology to capture the location and the company has partnered with some of the big players in the M2M/IoT space including Verizon Wireless and Telit Wireless Solutions.

Beyond the technical aspects, I also like that the company has decided to manufacture the device in the United States. For those of you who know me well, you know that I have a strong affinity for products that are manufactured in the United States. Additionally, every SOBERLINK SL2 device also passes through rigorous testing and meets manufacturing certifications including ISO 9001, 14001, 13485, AS9100, and OHSA’s 18001 certified by UL-DQS ITAR registered (M16646).

So that is the good—and that is a lot of positives that the company has going for it. Candidly, however, the challenge—for me at least—is blowing into the device correctly. For those individuals that have had numerous drinks I can only imagine how difficult it would be.

All my feedback to SOBERLINK is to consider reexamining how users blow into the alcohol-monitoring device—and that is exactly what I did. I reached out to SOBERLINK to provide my feedback, and guess what, I wasn’t alone.

The company also received similar criticism from a number of users. The reason it was challenging initially to blow into the device is due to federal mandates, however, the company was able to address the concerns in a recent release, making the device easier to blow into.

I am pleased by the response I received from the company. It recognized the challenge with the device and addressed the concerns head on, bringing to market an updated M2M/IoT alcohol-monitoring device that is about 30% percent easier.

Looking at everything SOBERLINK has done recently with the alcohol-monitoring device, I am happy to report that this is one of those examples of something truly great happening when the M2M/IoT industry comes together to build a connected device.

Unique Features:

  • Uses facial recognition to confirm identity of user

The Good:

  • SL2 uses cellular and GPS technology
  • Identifies individual, location, and time of test
  • Manufactured in the United States

The Bad:

  • Difficult to blow into the device