Hacking Against Drunk Driving

Feb 10 2017

After hours of intensive team programming, NYU Shanghai sophomore Chelsea Polanco created a pseudo alcohol-sensing device that might effectively curb drunk driving. The ingenious product also landed her team first prize of a hackathon in early January.

The QHacks were part of the three-day Diversity Engineering Campus Alignment (DECA) conference, sponsored by Qualcomm to engage top students with professionals in technical fields. The event attracted some 60 minority college students from across the United States. Contestants were asked to team up  and come up with a unique idea that  addresses  an urgent social problem and design a practical prototype within four hours. They were then judged on the robustness of the final product and its application.

Inspired by her longtime concern over the issue of drunk driving, Polanco proposed the winning idea of attaching  a sensor to car keys that would test a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) through sweat. “The ethanol sensor was not available, so we adopted pressure and moisture sensors,” said Polanco. If the App senses alcohol, it will alert the drunk driver to find others to take them home. “This can prevent drunk driving before it even starts,” she added.

As a computer science major, Polanco’s huge passion for coding dates back to her high school days, and she plans to embark on a software engineering career after graduation. “I want to continue developing this device into an effective and practical product,” she said.

Polanco said QHacks was a good opportunity to expand diversity in the technological world, as diversity of opinion is integral to industry innovation.

“I hope to influence more people to consider a career in STEM, regardless of their backgrounds," said Polanco. “For myself, self-imposed limitations will not hold me back, but rather serve as an impetus to succeed regardless of my ethnicity. ”