The Only Breathalyzer You’ll Need Tonight

The Lapka Breath Alcohol Monitor looks like it could have been designed by Jony Ive after some binge drinking. But the truly genius part is this: the drunker you get, the easier it is to use. Happy New Year’s Eve!

The Only Breathalyzer You’ll Need Tonight

There’s no shortage of cheap breathalyzers out there. In fact, if your holidays were anything like mine, you were probably blowing 0.09 into a cheap $10 model on Christmas morning, courtesy of Santa, who picked it up at a local gas station and slipped it into your stocking.

Given that we live in such a world, it’s pretty hard to imagine anyone forking over $200 for a breathalyzer, but Lapka might just convince you to do it. Not only is this breathalyzer beautifully designed — it looks as if the transdimensional aliens at the other end of the Monolith in 2001 tried their hand at measuring blood alcohol levels — but it has a UI that actually changes along with your sobriety.

Let’s start with the design. The Lapka Breath Alcohol Monitor (BAM) is a palm-sized cylinder of black ceramic that holds a hyper-sensitive fuel cell blood alcohol sensor inside. The company makes such a point of the BAM’s stealthy beauty that its manual starts off with both 500 words of free verse and an instrumental track, so you know that this isn’t just some common breathalyzer: it’s meant to be a kind of transcendental objét. This is just silly marketing bombast, but even so, the BAM is undeniably a pretty object, with some sleek, minimal design chops.

And unlike most breathalyzers, the device is designed so that you don’t need a mouthpiece. Instead, you simply cup the BAM in your palm and gently blow into it for only four seconds to get an accurate reading. There’s no beeping lights, no readouts: as soon as you begin breathing into the BAM, it connects via Bluetooth to your iPhone or Android smartphone, and an associated app gives you your blood alcohol reading.

While the BAM’s hardware is undeniably attractive — this is the breathalyzer equivalent in both design and price to the 2013 Mac Pro — it’s the app that is truly innovative. It features a UI that actually changes itself according to your blood alcohol content. Simply put? The drunker you get, the easier the app becomes to read and understand.

For example, blow a 0.09 into the Lapka BAM and you will not only see that, but you will be told in plain English what effects this BAC will have on you: “Significant impairment to motor coordination and loss of good judgment.” A user is also given an approximate time until they sober up, and the name and address of their location.

As the evening progresses and the drinks pile up, the Lapka BAM changes its interface to match. At 0.13% BAC, the interface elements, such as software buttons, tap targets and fonts, begin to change color and size to be easier to understand to the alcohol-addled. And once you get into binge-drinking territory, the Lapka BAM app becomes the equivalent of a big, red STOP sign, warning you it’s time to call a cab and go home before your liver quits on you.

The tricks the Lapka BAM is employing to have an interface that adjusts itself according to drunkenness isn’t hard to comprehend, yet this is actually the future of UI: interfaces that adapt themselves not only to your capabilities, but your disabilities — self-inflicted or otherwise — as well. It’s good design that simply gets more artful and elegant the more artless and clumsy you become.

You can purchase the Lapka Breath Alcohol Monitor from the official site for $200.

About the author

John Brownlee is a design writer who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can email him at