Examining new-generation transdermal alcohol biosensor performance across laboratory and field contexts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Wrist-worn transdermal alcohol sensors have the potential to change how alcohol consumption is measured. However, hardware and data analytic challenges associated with transdermal sensor data have kept these devices from widespread use. Given recent technological and analytic advances, this study provides an updated account of the performance of a new-generation wrist-worn transdermal sensor in both laboratory and field settings. Methods: This work leverages machine learning models to convert transdermal alcohol concentration data into estimates of Breath Alcohol Concentration (BrAC) in a large-scale laboratory sample (N = 256, study 1) and a pilot field sample (N = 27, study 2). Specifically, in both studies, the accuracy of the translation is evaluated by comparing BAC estimates yielded by BACtrack Skyn to real-time breathalyzer measurements collected in the laboratory and in the field. Results: The newest version of the Skyn device demonstrates a substantially lower error rate than older hand-assembled prototypes (0% to 7% vs. 29% to 53%, respectively). On average, real-time estimates of BrAC yielded by these transdermal sensors are within 0.007 of true BAC readings in the laboratory context and within 0.019 of true BrAC readings in the field. In both contexts, the distance between true and estimated BrAC was larger when only alcohol episodes were examined (laboratory = 0.017; field = 0.041). Finally, results of power-law-curve projections indicate that, given their accuracy, transdermal BrAC estimates in real-world contexts have the potential to improve markedly (>25%) with adequately sized datasets for model training. Conclusion: Findings from this study indicate that the latest version of the transdermal wrist sensor holds promise for the accurate assessment of alcohol consumption in field contexts. A great deal of additional work is needed to provide a full picture of the utility of these devices, including research with large participant samples in field contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-59
Number of pages10
JournalAlcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • alcohol
  • biosensor
  • blood alcohol concentration
  • machine learning
  • transdermal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • General Medicine


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