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Future iPhones may come with a breathalyser feature built-in

And it's all in the name of driver safety

Apple isn’t one to shy away from snazzy new features or wild patents. iOS 15 introduced support for keys, be it your home, car, or hotel. The company even holds a patent for a foldable iPad, where the bottom half turns into a keyboard! But Apple’s latest patent packs in a high-tech safety feature – a breathalyser.

According to a new patent, courtesy of Patently Apple, Apple is planning to implement a breathalyser feature in future iPhones. The feature will be lobbed in with the existing car key section of the Wallet app, and will stop drivers from accessing their car when drunk.

With the feature, users will have to breathe into their iPhone, Watch, or yet-to-be-released accessory, just like a normal breathalyser. The tech would then take a reading of the blood alcohol and ammonia content.

Should you pass the test, you’ll be able to access your car key on your iPhone. If you don’t, you’ll be blocked from accessing the NFC key for a period of time. In some instances, your device will also ask you to solve a quick maths problem or puzzle, to further prove your competency.

The planned feature calls upon a previous patent for the breathalyser tech. Using optical light sensors, the additional component would be able to detect body readings, such as blood alcohol level, through infrared lights. It’s unclear if Apple plans to build this into a future iPhone, the car it’s working on, or into an extra accessory; there are plans for both.

How would Apple’s breathalyser feature work?

It’s currently unclear how the planned breathalyser feature might work on future iPhones. We know the reading will be taken from the new optical sensors, but not how the feature would be implemented. There are a few ways Apple could do this, however.

One such option would to have the prompt automatically appear if your other vitals (such as your heart rate) indicate you might have been drinking, and depending on the time of day. At this point, you could take the test or cancel the prompt if you haven’t been drinking. This would require an Apple Watch, but seems like the most intuitive way to implement the feature.

Another solution would be to have a button below the car key in the Wallet app for you to touch. This would require you to manually access the breathalyser test, and then proceed according to the results. This would require more active participation, and a bit more honesty.

While we welcome such a feature aimed at safety, it doesn’t seem particularly foolproof. At any point, you could opt not to take the breathalyser test, giving you the same access to your car – drunk or not. Of course, Apple can’t force you to take the test to access your car, but it does beg the question as to whether someone prepared to drink and drive would use the feature. Perhaps the added prompt is all some people will need to think twice.

Of course, these are just patents. All the ideas on how the feature might work are just speculation. Apple will definitely be working out the finer details before releasing the feature. And you shouldn’t expect it for a while at least. The company may even decide not to go forwards with the feature at all. It’ll be interesting to see what Apple does with this patent, so watch this space.