This breathalyzer is an incredible piece of industrial design. It's nothing more than a ceramic black tube. There’s no power button—an internal pressure sensor turns it on when you blow—and in fact, you only need to charge it six times over the course of a year. It’s not hard to imagine more electronics working a lot like this in the future—sleek, seemingly passive, and awake at a moment’s notice.
But Lapka’s Creative Director Vadik Marmeladov doesn’t want you thinking about the construction of what is surely the world’s most beautifully designed breathalyzer. He wants you thinking of the core gesture behind it—the simple motion of blowing into your hand.
"We want to be a post-Apple company. We want to do things they can’t do," Marmeladov tells me. "They have to show a product because of the investors and the industry. We can afford not to show the product. So we were thinking, we shouldn’t design anything at this point. We should design the behavior rather than the product."
While it may exude subtly beautiful craftsmanship, the Lapka Breath Alcohol Monitor (BAM) is an early attempt to create a gadget in a post-gadget world, one in which you don’t need or want white earbuds to identify what you’re doing, but the smallest of human behaviors can both enable an experience and create a product identity. To use the breathalyzer, you wrap a fist around it. Then you blow right into your hand rather than some disposable tip.
"We use your own body to replace some technical parts," Marmeladov explains. "Your own hand becomes part of your device; it actually won’t work without your hand."
The experience feels more organic to the end user now, and it can theoretically scale to a breathalyzer built 5 or 10 years in the future, when electronics shrink away but humans still need natural means to interface with them. Ultimately, Lapka still sends all results to your iPhone anyway (using a series of simple audible clicks rather than the Bluetooth protocol). They’ve merely streamlined the collection process from a glowing fashion accessory like the Nike+ Fuelband to a seemingly inert device that completely disappears on your person.
For the young design studio Lapka, it’s their second audacious design (their first was a radiation monitor, of all things). And while Marmeladov admits the scale of a breathalyzer could never compete with a platform like the iWatch, he does believe that such tasteful, human-powered approaches to electronics could disrupt medical gadgets to come. Or, at the very least, it’s an interesting alternative to more white earbuds.
The Lapka BAM is out this October for $199.