Research: New smart ring detects whether a drink has been spiked

"Hedgehog" prototype smart ring has an accuracy of up to 89 percent in detecting spiked drinks. Source: ERR

Researchers from the University of Tartu have developed "Hedgehog," a smart ring prototype that can detect tampering with a beverage. The ring can tell whether liquids, such as juice or beer, contain drugs or other admixtures.

Drink spiking means that sedatives (mostly GHB drugs) are secretly added to the drinker's beverage without their knowledge.

The resulting mixture is also known as the rape drug, as it is easy to take advantage of the sedated person. Researchers at the University of Tartu have created a smart ring that could aid in safeguarding against such threats.

Huber Flores, associate professor of pervasive computing, explained, "The smart ring is based on light measurement technology. Using optical sensors, we determine the beverage's fingerprint and if the fingerprint changes over time, we know that the drink has been tampered with."

It is difficult to detect a spiked drink with the naked eye or by scent, but if you wear the "Hedgehog" ring and have a smartphone in your pocket, you may be better protected from being drugged. 

"This is a major societal concern. With our ring we want to protect people from this type of danger," Zhigang Yin, junior research fellow of pervasive computing, said.

The prototype is made up of three parts: optical sensors, an analyzing chip, and a smartphone. "The drink's fingerprint is first determined by scanning it with optical sensors. The data from the chip is then sent to the smartphone, which reveals whether or not the beverage has been tampered with," Yin explained.

"Hedgehog" can detect spiked drinks with an accuracy of up to 89 percent. A green signal means the beverage has not been tampered with; a read one means it has. The container, however, must be transparent or translucent as the ring uses optical sensors.

Flores explained that a person who has consumed a spiked beverage has on average between 5 and 20 minutes before the onset of the first symptoms.

"Within this time frame, a person can notice the change in purity of their drink on their mobile phone and there is enough time to warn others."

The ring is currently only a prototype. In the final form the wristband component (as pictured) will be eliminated, leaving only the ring.

When partygoers could begin wearing the "Hedgehog" ultimately depends on funding, Flores said.

Smart ring technology is not new, but sensors traditionally have been placed on the interior of the ring. For instance, they are used to measure heart rate and skin temperature.

"We flipped the idea such that the ring takes measurements from its surroundings, in this case beverages," Flores explained.

Huber Flores and his colleagues write about their work in the "Hedgehog: Detecting Drink Spiking on Wearable" research article.


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Editor: Airika Harrik, Kristina Kersa

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