MAK Students Design New Breathalyzer

Written by: 
Benjamin Tumusiime



Two Makerere University students have made what they say is a safer breathalyzer that could accurately detect the level of alcohol a motorist has taken without exposing them to diseases.

Police in Uganda uses breathalyzers to detect motorists’ levels of alcohol consumption. The kind used by the police requires different people tested to blow into the same unit, something the students say could potentially transmit diseases between users.

They have now come up with a different design for the breathalyzer which allows for separate straws for each user. This breathalyzer is a brainchild of Marvin Mugume, a first year student of information technology. It is called the project “Kaseke” which means a straw in many Bantu languages. Mugume explains the three main components in his innovation.

“We use three major components; a microcontroller at mega 8, the input module and the output module. We have the sensor which senses the amount of alcohol in the breath, reflects it on the screen and then transmits the data.”

Mugume worked with Isaac Mubiru to program the device so that it detects even the smallest traces of alcohol from the breath.

For purposes of demonstration and confirmation, Mubiru acted as a drunken motorist. With the device switched on it asks for the driver’s permit which is entered before one blows into the machine with sensors inside. The first time he blew into the machine, the device showed green and it said drive on, meaning no alcohol was detected.

“This is meant to increase the user friendliness since some officers don’t know how to use these devices. We carried out a research and found that out of a hundred drivers; only one can be able to read the current Breathalyzer. But with ours there would be simplicity,” Mubiru says.

After taking half a bottle of some spirit, Mubiru blew into the machine again, this time it signaled red and recommended the driver be arrested. The alcohol detector also has a charging pot, a data pot which is connected to the computer for data entry and programming.

“The device is made up of GSM module which enables it to connect to the internet in that there is a sim card in the GSM module which enables it to connect to the internet. We designed a database which picks data sent from GSM. This database can intake the alcohol level and it says that you are drunk above 0.9 milligrams per litre,” Mubiru adds.

Although it may seem easy, Mugume shared some of the challenges they faced.

“To come up with just a simple project, we have to import these electronic components which take time and money,” Mugume explains.

Despite the challenges, Mugume still wants to improve his technology.

“We need to use fingerprint scanner such that instead of entering the driver’s permit number, a fingerprint bitmap is taken. We know some drivers move with duplicates of their driving permits and some don’t move with them,” he says.

With the fingerprint scan, Mugume says, biodata information can be sent to a central database where it can be used to bring back national identity card information, driver’s permit information and all necessary details to be used in court in case a driver is caught above the law.

Project Kaseke could cost about one hundred and fifty thousand Uganda shillings. This means that it can be bought for domestic use and also for some companies that would want to curb drink driving.