Drunk driving is a serious problem and – despite being conscientious – at a certain point in the evening, trusting one's own judgement means trusting someone who isn't sober enough to make the call. While inexpensive breathalyzers costing less than US$30 are available, they're not the most reliable, while the more professional models need to be sent back to the factory on a regular basis for recalibration. Recently, we got hold of an AlcoMate Revo by AK GlobalTech. The device is aimed at the consumer market, and uses a replaceable sensor module that eliminates the need for recalibration. We put it through its paces.

Though aimed at consumers, the Revo is also claimed to be suitable for the military, schools, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and clinics. It's billed as the company's flagship breathalyzer and incorporates law-enforcement-grade technology that the US Navy & Marine Corps uses exclusively for its department-wide alcohol screening programs.

GlobalTech says that the Revo is a step up on cheaper breathalyzers, such as those used with cell phones, because the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) does not consider these as official alcohol screening tools. By contrast, the Revo is approved by both the DOT and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) based on tests to determine precision and accuracy of measurement, non-alcohol interference, deep-lung sampling, temperature effects, vibration stability, and electrical safety.

The Revo is based on fuel-cell sensor technology, in that the breathalyzer oxidizes the alcohol sample, which produces an electrical current. Measuring this current provides the blood alcohol count (BAC). The sensor is installed in AK GlobalTech's Pre-calibrated Replaceable Intelligent Sensor Module (PRISM), seen above.

These modules are removable and replaceable, so the device never needs to be sent out for recalibration. According to the company, this not only saves on downtime, but better maintains the accuracy of the device because recalibrated sensors deteriorate over time. GlobalTech says that the modules are accurate to +/- 0.005 at 0.10 g/dL (percent of BAC) and are good for one year or 1,000 uses.

Our impressions

The AlcoMate Revo comes in a padded ABS case along with a cloth belt bag, and a supply of disposable mouthpieces. The case also has a recess for a spare PRISM module. Out of the box, the Alcomate Revo measures 4.0 x 2.0 x 0.6 in (10 x 5 x 1.5 cm) and is very ergonomic and lightweight with its power source of two 1.5-volt batteries.

The Revo is designed for solo operation, so the controls and display are kept simple and relatively intuitive. To operate, the user inserts a new mouthpiece, then uses the one-button control to switch it on. Once activated, the four-digit LCD display prompts when to blow, a beeper sounds to tell when to keep blowing to get a proper sample, then a surprisingly firm click says when to stop. The Revo then processes the sample and displays the blood alcohol level.

As to the PRISM module, replacing it is easy. Simply take off the back, remove one of the batteries, and the module slips out.

In the name of science, and because no sacrifice is too great, we simulated an evening out with a spaghetti dinner accompanied with measured quantities of whiskey and soda, plus measured glasses of wine. Following the enclosed instructions, we then took breath samples at regular intervals over the course of the evening.

It took a couple of tries to learn when to blow and when to stop blowing, but afterwards, the process was straightforward. The readings seemed accurate when compared to estimates from an online blood alcohol calculator. Out of six measurements over the course of the evening, there was only one false negative where the Revo didn't measure any blood alcohol at all.

The AlcoMate Revo sells for US$249.95, which is a bit steep for the average consumer, but given today's drunk driving penalties, it could be reasonable insurance.

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