Honda, Hitachi device tests breath for alcohol

A device developed by Honda Motor Co. and Hitachi could help drivers determine when they’ve had too much to drink before they step into their cars.

The breath-test prototype developed by the two Japanese companies can be integrated into a car key to prevent the would-be driver from starting the engine if he or she has had too much alcohol. It can be used away from the car, which Hitachi and Honda say can serve as a deterrent to drunken driving.

The device can distinguish between human breath and other gases and can give a reading within three seconds. The companies said the device can read up to as little as 0.015 mg/L of alcohol concentration, or about 10 percent of Japan’s legal driving limit.

Honda and Hitachi, which ranks No. 24 on Automotive News’ list of the top global auto suppliers, said they hope to commercialize the device in the future. In the meantime, the prototype and related research will be presented at the SAE World Congress in April in Detroit.

Honda and Hitachi announced the technology in a statement today.

Most ignition interlock technology requires drivers to blow into a device while already in the vehicle. Honda and Hitachi said moving that technology away from vehicles might decrease the likelihood of someone driving drunk since there will be no need to enter a vehicle.

Users blow into a 0.2-inch square sensor on the device. The breath is measured using gas sensors that detect ethanol, hydrogen and metabolized acetaldehyde.

If the key is close to the driver’s seat, the results also can appear on the vehicle’s display panel, the companies said.

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