Feds Spend $402,721 on Underwear That Senses Cigarette Smoke

May 7, 2013 - 10:06 AM
PACT

The Personal Automatic Cigarette Tracker, being developed with taxpayer money, aims to put a breathing sensor in conventional underwear and a "hand gesture" sensor in a bracelet to detect and record when a person smokes. (Photo from University of Alabama website)

(CNSNews.com) – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded more than $400,000 to a research project involving underwear that can detect when a person smokes cigarettes.

The University of Alabama has received two grants totaling $402,721 for the project, which so far has produced a “very early prototype” of the monitoring system, which -- in its current state -- fits like a vest.

The goal of the three-year study is to “develop a wearable sensor system comprised of a breathing sensor integrated into conventional underwear.”

The Personal Automatic Cigarette Tracker (PACT for short) is intended to accurately measure when and how often people smoke as well as how deeply they inhale. The real-time information would be used to design strategies for smoking cessation.

“The modern methods of monitoring smoking, primarily you rely on self-report,” said Dr. Edward Sazonov, an associate professor at the University of Alabama who is leading the project. “There are few devices which actually allow a more computerized health report,” he told CNSNews.com.

“We are trying to eliminate the need for self-report from people about how much they smoke, when they smoke, how many puffs they take from the cigarette,” he said.

Sazonov has created two wearable sensors: a small bracelet worn on the arm that monitors a smoker’s hand-to-mouth motion; and the underwear sensor that monitors breathing.

“The combination of these two sensors, hopefully, will allow us to monitor cigarette smoking without asking people when and how much they smoke,” he said.

The PACT Sazonov created is a “very early prototype,” that fits like a vest with multiple straps and wires, far from the “non-invasive, wearable” underwear the project developers had in mind.

“It’s not very user friendly,” Sazonov said. “Right now we’re actually in the process of integrating this whole system just so it’s in an elastic band, pretty much like a heart rate monitor.”

The project began in March 2010, with the University receiving $187,368 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  That grant was followed by an additional $215,353 in 2011, though the project will not end until August of this year.

The grants have yielded two studies. In one of them, people were brought into a lab and fitted with the sensors, which tracked normal activities such as eating and physical activity. The goal was to see if the monitor would also detect cigarette smoking, differentiating it immediately from other activities.  Sazonov said this study was successful.

A second study had people wearing the PACT for a full day. Those results are still being analyzed.

“The results can be used in support of cessation because potentially in the future we should be able to detect smoking in real time,” Sazonov said.

When asked if he will be applying for more grants in the future when the current funding ends this summer, Sazonov said, “We definitely want to continue with this research, yes.”