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Future Tech: 

Thermal cameras can spot drunkards

Look at all of them: totally hammered.

Look at all of them: totally hammered.

Think you can convince people you’re perfectly sober, even if you feel like you’re about to pass out? Well, maybe you can, but passing thermal cameras and an algorithm could be a different story. Researchers are working on technology to tell police if a driver is over the limit based purely on a photo, without a breathalyzer in sight.

Alcohol changes the face in ways not visible to the human eye, but thermal cameras are considerably more thorough than our optics. Researchers Georgia Koukiou and Vassilis Anastassopoulos took thermal images of 41 people before and after they’d had a drink – a computer algorithm they developed was able to spot which faces had racked up the bar tab in seconds.

You may think this is just a 50/50 guessing game, where the machine is basically using the process of elimination to reach its conclusion, but apparently not. When the researchers presented the computer with just a single ‘unknown’ person, it was able to successfully predict which subjects had been drinking with a 90 percent accuracy. And that’s without hearing the subjects’ likely arsenal of interminable stories, slurred speech and enthusiastic renditions of Mister Brightside.

It turns out that when drinking, the thermal behavior of the face tends to change – especially around the nose and forehead. While you can’t pick that out with the naked eye, it’s like light and day to the machine.

Despite this, it isn’t ready to be rolled out just yet. When it is, researchers aren’t just planning on selling this as a less-intrusive breathalyzer test – they reckon installing it in cars or heavy machinery could prevent future accidents, and it could even be used by police looking for hooligans, to stop trouble before it starts.

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