The idea of using a vehicle-interlock system that disables an automobile when sensors detect an inebriated driver has been around for some years now. One of the major hurdles though is that alcohol sensors can be fooled. For instance, one person can take the sobriety test and another person can do the actual driving.

Ashirbani Saha and Kaushik Ray, University of Windsor engineering graduate students, hope to steer auto technology manufacturers in the right direction by using biometrics. They are developing a face recognition program that will prevent drivers from circumventing the system.

“We are still in the pre-prototype stage, but so far of program is being tested in two cars,” said Ray. “The system will need to be miniaturized.”

The Driver ID device that Ray and Saha are working on will be used in tandem with a system that detects and measures alcohol levels from the sweat produced by a driver's hands. This transdermal sensor was developed by Waterloo, Ont.-based Sober Steering Sensors Canada Inc.

Sober Steering was one of seven small businesses to receive funding in 2010 from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative to work with University of Windsor researchers in turning ideas into commercially viable ventures. The company approached the university's computer engineering professor Dr. Jonathan Wu, who in turn gave the assignment to the two students.

Sober Steering's transdermal sensor is built into the steering wheel of a car. The sensor detects a driver's blood alcohol level by analyzing the sweat and gas emitted by the driver's hands when it is placed on the steering wheel. If the level exceeds a pre-set limit, the car will not start. Sober Steering hopes car manufacturers will build this technology into their vehicles.