LED Ice Cubes Prevent Alcohol Induced Blackouts


On November 23rd last year, [Dhairya] attended a little shindig at MIT. Three drinks into the night, he blacked out and woke up in the hospital the next day. It was an alcohol-induced blackout, and like all parties at MIT, there’s an ingenious solution to [Dhairya]’s problem.

[Dhairya] came up with an alcohol-aware ice cube made of a coin cell battery, an ATtiny microcontroller, and an IR transceiver are molded into an edible gelatin ice cube. The microcontroller counts the number of sips per drink, and after one glass of adult beverage changes the color of the flashing LED from green to yellow. After two drinks the LED changes from yellow to red, signaling [Dhairya] to slow down.

If [Dhairya] feels the night is too young and keeps on drinking, the IR transmitter signals to his cell phone to send a text to a friend telling them to go take [Dhairya] home.

Less than three weeks after waking up in the hospital, [Dhairya] tested out his glowing ice cubes at another party. Everything performed wonderfully, even if he admits his creation is a little crude. A neat piece of work, and we can’t wait to see an update to this project.

121 thoughts on “LED Ice Cubes Prevent Alcohol Induced Blackouts

  1. I hope that’s just a cute back story to provide a reason for the cubes…having to take extreme measures to compensate for lack of self-control is a HUGE sign of problems to come. Aside from that…ooooooo cool glowy things.

        1. Kevin: with respect, your opinion would carry a lot more weight if you *have* had something to drink. Claiming you’ve never consumed alcohol doesn’t make you the best judge of wether or not sobriety is overrated. ;)

          1. Eric: with respect, your opinion would carry a lot more weight if you *have* had something to inject intravenously. Claiming you’ve never consumed narcotics doesn’t make you the best judge of wether [sic] or not sobriety is overrated. ;)

            I’m not trying to be harsh, but the fact is what you said can be applied to anything. Do I know, first hand, what alcohol consumptions feels like? No. However, I also don’t know what injecting heroin feels like, and if heroin addicts are to be believed, it probably feels pretty good. I have, however, witnessed the effects of alcohol, and I don’t see what I’m missing. I have a finite time to be alive, and there are better ways to spend the time I do have than frittering it away in a drunken stupor. Alcohol is a drug. Would you give someone abstaining from cocaine, methamphetamine, tobacco, opiates, etc. a second thought? Probably not. Obviously, alcohol is not as dangerous as any of those, but I still see no reason to ingest something which serves precisely zero purpose.

        2. awww kevin, sobriety is ok. but it is wayyyy over-rated! being drunk is fun. being sober is fun….sometimes. being sober is something you do because your boss will get pissed if you don’t.

          1. Sorry, maybe I’m missing something, but how is being drunk “fun?” Being sober is something I do because I have better things to do than act like an imbecile and dull my mind.

          2. The experience of what? That’s just a cop out of an argument. Granted, fun is entirely subjective. So if you find being more stupid, liver cirrhosis, and memory loss “fun,” I can’t argue with that. I, however, do not.

        3. Well considering pretty much all the great artistic works in history have been created by substance users, I think you have a lot of explaining to do.

          Names like Lewis Carroll, Winston Churchill, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gogh are household names, decades or centuries after their death. Are you claiming their lives were frittered away in chemically induced stupors?

          There’s nothing wrong with tinkering with your body’s chemistry a little, as long as you can keep things in check. And yes, as far as I’m concerned that goes for ALL substances.

          1. If that isn’t a fallacy I don’t know what is. Paul Erdos famously took amphetamines every day of his life for 20+ years (maybe more). It seemed to work out well for him. Would I recommend it? Probably not. Because for every Paul Erdos there’s a thousand others who haven’t turned out so well.

            First of all, I have no idea where you’re getting the idea that “pretty much all the great artistic works in history have been created by substance abuses,” but even if that were true, it still doesn’t prove that alcohol makes someone into a great artist. If that were true, we’d have a whole lot more geniuses. If you don’t believe me go visit an ER during Spring Break anywhere in Florida.

            Secondly, I am not claiming their lives were spent frittered away, but at the same time, who knows what they could have accomplished had they not consumed alcohol? Maybe more, maybe less.

            Whether it is moral to consume mind altering substances is an open question, but whether it is wise, in many cases is not. Alcohol has no mind enhancing properties. It is a depressant. The idea that being drunk, high, or what have you “opens up your mind” is patently stupid.

            Look, I know many people who drink to get drunk, because they like the effects. I think it’s stupid, but hey, it’s their body. What I don’t get are the people who can’t just own up to the fact that they like alcohol and have to go through all kinds of insane mental gymnastics to make it look like more than it is. It’s not even the act which I find idiotic, it’s the self-righteousness.

          1. Kevin: the only problem I would have is a 40 year old virgin telling me sex isn’t fun. While not the same thing, that’s pretty close to what we heard from you.

            For every sick college student in an ER during spring break, there are countless doctors, engineers, teachers, parents, and other successful people that have learned to enjoy alcohol responsibly. I think most of them benefit from that choice.

            Also, just as an anecdote, some of my best code has been written while buzzed — don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! :)

          2. I take issue with the “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it” argument. Did you have to eat a dirty sock to know you didn’t want to? Perhaps more pertinent, did you have to have gay sex to know you were straight or vice versa?

            Now, I will agree that saying sex “isn’t fun” is entirely subjective, so I’m not sure what the point of saying that was, but I don’t know the context.

            As for professionals enjoying alcohol, while I personally don’t like it, obviously there are tons who enjoy it without getting hurt. I don’t think it has benefited them, but it hasn’t hurt them either. The point here is not that, it’s stupid to continue drinking when you end up in a hospital after three drinks.

            Anecdotes are fun. Anyway, just because your best code was written while partially intoxicated doesn’t prove the intoxication itself improved it.

    1. I agree. If this guy is capable of getting into MIT and creating a (moderately) complex electronics project, but NOT capable of realizing when he’s doing something incredibly stupid that could end his life (repeatedly apparently), he deserves to be kicked out. If that story is true I would never hire this guy if I heard about this. EVER. I don’t care what he has on his resume.
      The internet never forgets, and I guess you should remember that before you share incredibly embarrassing things about your flaws. Regretting posts isn’t just for Facebook people.

      1. And no one wants to work with or for you AC. Kicking people out of school and discriminating against them because of a medical condition (completely unrelated to their academic or professional ability I’ll add) is ridiculous.

        1. Except unlike say, diabetes, no one is forcing anyone to drink. If I had celiac disease, and continued to eat wheat, that would be pretty idiotic, no? There is an easy solution to this. If someone isn’t smart enough to know their limits, they shouldn’t be going to MIT.

      2. Indeed – I however WOULD hire this guy… he’s an inventor… he’s actually using his skills to solve real problems in a way that creates eye-candy-products good enough to generate their own publicity.

        You on the other hand, are a weird, stuck-up, judgemental prick… with very little life-experience, who prefers to criticise other people’s “morals” from the safety of a computer screen.

        I would hire this guy, but I wouldn’t hire you. Hell… I wouldn’t even want to be spend any time in the same room as you.

        1. Half of your comment is baseless speculation, but as to being an inventor. . .doing something smart for something stupid is still stupid. Intelligence isn’t finding the most complicated solution, it’s finding the best effective and if possible, most simple. In either case, the so-called inventor fails tremendously considering the problem (getting drunk) is entirely self-inflicted. It isn’t a question of morals, it’s a question of mental competence.

          1. Yes. The half about the person this post is about, is baseless speculation.

            The part about you, however, is correct; you do sound like a judgemental prick. If you don’t drink alcohol, so be it, but don’t complain about others that they do.

            So, he has a problem, but at least there’s some solution to that problem. I don’t see you coming up with a solution to your lack of life experience.

        2. Interesting… I just have one question… What are you going to do when your company is in the middle of a big important project which relies on this guy for some technical aspect, and he doesn’t show up to work because he’s in the hospital in ANOTHER alcohol induced coma because he forgot to recharge his icecube and still hasn’t learned any self control?

  2. From a hack perspective, this is cool.

    I will say that anyone who blacks out after just 3 drinks should indeed be very careful around alcohol. This is a great tool for anyone who would use it to keep their drinking rate in the “social” zone. Now if it could only hide your car keys too…..

  3. Definitely a great idea!
    But probably needs more improvement: there’s a difference between a sip of beer and a sip of votka. It’s not just about how much you drink but also about how fast…
    Also, how exactly does the IR transmitter work? recent phones lack IR …. and it certainly
    wont work if the phone is inside the pocket.

    Also…. blackout after three drinks seems quire fishy…
    Maybe he reads the HAD post to answer….

  4. One word here.
    Easier to regulate the buzz. More social. And it’s tasty.
    Agree that if you’re considering this project to regulate alcohol intake, it might be better to switch to their non-alcoholic equivs. You might have a drinking problem.

    1. I agree, as neat of an idea as it is to “monitor” this, if you wake up in the hospital once, it’s a problem. Going to a party a few weeks later is just further indication of that. Binge drinking is alcoholism as well, and this clearly falls into it.

      1. Three drinks does not even qualify for the clinical definition of “binge drinking”, let alone the actual practice. Some individuals do not metabolize alcohol the same way and need to be much more conscious of the amount of alcohol they are consuming when they do choose to consume it.

        Ultimately, however, the discussion about whether or not this person’s drinking is problematic needs to take place between the individual and a physician or psychiatrist, which I’m quite sure occurred during the hospital stay (presuming the hospital staff were at all competent).

    2. Sorry, but I do not agree with you.
      If you stick to beer, you will spend half your night in the toilets.
      Clear spirits are fine, as long as you know your limits. If you know you can handle 15 shots maximum per night, you need to stop drinking after the 15th, otherwise bad things happen.
      And this guy probably shouldn’t be drinking at all. If you pass out after 3 drinks, your body obviously doesn’t like it.

  5. I don’t want to diminish the serious dangers of alcohol, but blacked out after three drinks? Was this guy chugging Long Islands, or doing shots of unadulterated Everclear? Anyone care to try some math on this?

  6. A technological solution attempt to tackle a purely psychological and social problem. This must fall under the category “what could possibly go wrong” and “we’ll blame the tech at the next fail”.

    You can also choose to leave the drinks and resist the peer-pressure.

      1. What law of physics says that ethanol can’t be 100% pure? Granted, there’s a few laws of physics that say you can’t get it to 100% merely by distilling it, but that’s not at all the same thing as saying that 100% ethanol can’t exist. It can and does.

        1. My understanding is that once you start to approach 100% purity, it starts to pull water out of the air, so unless you can keep it in a dedicated environment then it won’t say pure. Take that with a grain of salt- it’s been over a decade since I had a chemistry class.

        2. Ethanol can’t stay over 96% in open container – it will pull water from the air until it dilutes itself to about this concentration level.

          And I can verify that drinking pure spirytus by glass (250ml) isn’t unheard of here.

          1. Huh. 250ml of alcohol, give or take, is just enough to be fatal for the average person. Certainly way too much to be enjoyable unless you’re a seasoned alcoholic.

          2. 250 ml of ethanol is equivalent to about a case of beer. Drinking it straight down would put you at 0.3 – 0.4 BAC, which for a normal person would be deadly.

        3. Ethanol cannot be made stronger than 95.6% via distillation except under hard vacuum. The water simply won’t separate any longer. Absolute ethanol is typically made by dissolving the water into benzene, and then separating that from the ethanol.

      2. I tried 92% polish “vodka” in Japan .. holy crap… the second shot I took numbed my salivary glands because I couldn’t swallow the crap fast enough. I had to drink milk from a local 7/11 the rest of the night just to make it stop flowing. Oh and I sounded like Jar-Jar zapping his tongue on the pod racer.

        1. Yeah, I had some Fray & Nephew overproof rum as a treat, and it doesn’t taste of anything until your tongue recovers, and then it’s the strongest rum flavour ever.

        2. In Quebec, you can still buy 96% ABV under the name ‘Alcool’ at the state-owned liquor stores (essentially spirytus). The idea is that you can dilute and flavor it to make your own 40% beverages at a (very slightly) lower cost. I presume that spirytus rektyfikowany (rectified grain spirits) usually served a similar purpose. I can’t think of any reason to drink it straight, although that character in Dr. Strangelove claims it prevents communism (I don’t think it works).

          In Shanghai, you can buy analytical-grade ethanol that hasn’t been denatured for around 6$ a liter, and it’s listed as over 99.99% pure (I forget the number of significant digits) . You’ll have to wait in a back alley while a courier gets it for you from an undisclosed location. It will set off an alarm at the subway, so take a cab. I needed it to clean circuit boards, but I’m sure someone has tried to drink it. I hope they’re OK.

  7. Next… MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, joint development of LED indication to show Americans when to inhale and exhale.

    Later on the roadmap of the joint venture: OLED display with adequate wiping procedures, to be mounted in home restrooms, sponsored by the state department.

    1. I hear there is another one too that unlocks the secret to weight loss. It’s a computer controlled dispenser of food. It’d predicted to cut the America obesity statistics in half inside a 12 month period…

      1. I’ll second that from down here in milwaukee, any day. Having lived here my whole life i don’t really realize how little people seem to drink everywhere else. I would be considered a moderate to heavy drinker in my social circle; my father used to be what i would call a heavy drinker, he fell down once and hit his head; the nurse at the hospital said his bac was .51 ‘a normal person would be in a coma, i have no idea what he was doing walking around’ she said. Now say what you will but neither of us has ever gotten a dui or alcohol poisoning. I have had the pleasure many a time of drinking with polish kids as my former employer used to ship a bunch of them in every summer and i can tell you this: they can drink, and i don’t just mean the boys.

  8. If his drinks were three solo cups of hard alcohol and slammed one on top of each other or maybe a “drink” to this kid is a full handle of vodka! and i couls see getting drunk and he starts chewing his ice cubes… bad news. choke, break a tooth, swallow a lithium coin cell, arsnic and lead and other nasties in electronics… Neat idea, just not thought out. And since when did geeks become party animals? I just picture revenge of the nerds when I think about this.

  9. Or you can not drink more than two drinks…i mean do you really not remember how many drinks you had. and let’s be honest if you can’t control your drinking, do you think you’re going to let your friends take you home after 3 or more drinks? cool concept though….i guess.

  10. Hello HackADay!

    I was much much drunk than 3 drinks that night, but I remember having only 3 – mixed them and had them on an empty stomach. I’m much more careful now!

    The cubes IR transmit to the smartphone, yes you would be wondering phones don’t have IR these days, this one has a IR receiver over the audio jack PSK’d in. And you are right, the phone needs to be in sight, but that is this alpha version – I am considering other design choices for the next iteration, suggestions most welcome!

    @zeflo, the photo of the circuit is a bit old, by the time I realized I was shooting the video I had already casted them into the cubes.


    1. Honest question, what is so complicated about just not drinking? You wind up in a hospital, and your reaction is, “I need some more of that!” In what way is that even vaguely rational?

        1. Except that crashes and muggings aren’t intrinsic properties of driving and public transit. If you’re getting into crashes on a regular basis, then yeah, you probably shouldn’t drive. Likewise if you’re getting mugged on a regular basis, you might want to examine where you go or where you live. However, in either case, there is an obvious benefit, you know, going places. What is the benefit of alcohol?

        1. I’m not saying he can’t drink. I do reserve the right to call his behaviour idiotic. I mean, what kind of cognitive dissonance does it take to find ways to enable yourself to consume more of the same substance that caused you to wind up in a hospital? There’s a word for that: stupid.

          1. Ok, we’ll play it like that then: I find your behavior idiotic, and stupid, and bigoted. I furthermore reserve the right to call you a bigot.

            So there, bigot.

            (I think that’s fair, don’t you?)

          2. Bigoted? What the hell are you even talking about? If you mean prejudiced against people who make stupid decisions, then yes, I am.

            Look, blacking out is a pretty good indication that whatever you did to cause that was probably not the best idea. You know how drug ads have those laundry lists of side effects that tell you to discontinue use of the medication if any occur? Well, alcohol is a drug, and if one of the “side effects” is ending up in a hospital, why would you NOT stop using it? Especially considering, unlike the drugs advertised on TV, alcohol has no real benefit.

  11. These people will fit right in at the infrastructure-vital companies and defense contracting firms they will eventually work at…

    Work for state or federal government and you can do this while being paid…

    1. I’d like to see the smartest person at MIT or Harvard vs. The dumbest person at the worse school in Russia, China, Japan, or most of Europe….

      In my country you know Russian, Estonian, Finnish, English and engineering level algebra by 14, or you’re literally thrown out of even crappy primary schools..

  12. Three drinks and alcohol poisoning? Yeah, I’d call him a lightweight too. But then I understand about alcohol volume and what the safe stuff is. You can drink your ass off on ale at 3% to 5% alcohol volume. Wine 2 or 3 glasses is enough to buzz you at 13%, vodka or rum is 30% and up by volume so limit the drinks to 1 or 2.

    1. I’m one of those people that, like this hacks designer, has an extreme sensitivity to alcohol. My first time ever drinking I had 6 shots of jagermeister, blacked out about an hour later, and after I woke up i proceeded to throw up blood for 3 hours. It was mostly that last bit which landed me in the hospital.
      A few months later a friend and I had a quiet movie night with some wine. An hour later I was out cold for 12 hours. My friend said she tried to wake me up for about 15 minutes with violent shaking at the end, and she already had the phone in hand to call 911 when I finally opened my eyes.

      That was over 15 years ago and I haven’t touched the stuff since.

      I’m sure this makes me a lightweight too, but unfortunately for some of us our bodies just came this way and there is little we can do to “toughen out” or “man up”.
      Especially so now. If alcohol had that kind of effect on me when I was young and healthy, I suspect trying again now might actually kill me.

  13. Asians and women have a much lower tolerance to alcohol. This is a medically known fact. They metabolize it much slower than the “average white male”.

    This project is neat as a concept, but really needs to be refined…which I sure it will be since he is at MIT. A pocket breathalyzer would be beneficial too…as long as his fellow party goers do not try to play Who Can Get the High Score with it lol

  14. 3 Drinks and Blackout = NERD

    Simple and not finished projects with a really good and futuristic description = Fancy school project

    (Fake, I bet it doesn’t send the SMS nor the accelerometer nor the RGB in the small piece of cube and one coin battery)

  15. @soutpielzaou, thank you for getting back to the relevant point here: not drinks and schools, but the hack.

    I call bull…loney. @00:49, there are images of the “prototype” – the battery sits basically flat on the table, showing tape, an LED, and the infrared transceiver. No processor is evident, which lets out everything he claimed it can do except light up. Even assuming there is a micro-thin super-hidden processor somewhere, it would have to contain a built-in accelerometer, and some method for interfacing with a phone or cell network (IR is not going to cut it, unless you carry your cell in your drinking hand the whole night, and add a IR receiver to your phone).

    What he as made are LED blinkies controlled by a TV remote. A cool hack, but not as billed.

    Fake, wrong, Schematic and BOM to (please!) prove me wrong.

  16. PS: HaD readers, disappointed in you: it took 13 posts before anyone even questioned the hardware. Every previous post (and most posts since) were lightweight/learn control/booze to party. Once again pointing out reading the caption and posting, instead of reading the post?

  17. I think most people on this page have assumed that a Blackout is Passing Out.

    It isn’t.

    I have had an alcohol induced blackout, a 12 hour blackout in fact. It happened after about 5 drinks at approx 3pm in the afternoon, and i came round the following morning on a staircase in the middle of an apartment block.

    What do you think happened in those hours in between? From the above, it appears that you would think i have collapsed due to a low tolerance. But i didn’t. On the 6th drink i probably had a normal conversation with someone who was out with me. On the 7th i reckon i was having a cigarette. At the bar getting my 8th i may have been at the jukebox chatting to some more friends…..etc etc etc.

    The night didn’t stop and neither did i. I kept going, friends completely unaware that i was in a alcohol induced blackout.

    A blackout is memory loss, the inability to transfer short term memory to long term memory. It’s very dangerous. And it’s more common than people seem to acknowledge. Once it happens, it will happen more and more often for longer durations.

    It renders you into a ghost, a shell, with very little control and limited access to previous memory whilst in a blackout state. You could be capable of absolutely anything and you cannot control it one bit.

    Blackouts can happen at any point once pre-disposed to them. Mine came after 5 drinks. Thats when i have my last memory.

    I’ve drank a full bottle of Jagermeister before. Copious amounts of beer on a session. I can take my ale.

    But that was the past. I won’t allow myself to drink anymore and am completely sober.

    I could possibly drink 15 pints of lager and have a good night.

    Or i could drink a few and wake up (not from sleep but from a blackout) having murdered my best friend.

    Believe me it can turn you into a savage beast and you will not even get any warning signs before it does. It is uncontrollable unless you completely stop drinking.

    I hope this enlightens some of you. It is the mockery and pi$$ taking that discourages people from stopping drinking as they are afraid of the social pressures.

    This issue needs more attention and more education. And if you think it is all a joke, next time you are on a night out, maybe with your friends, or your partner, just think, anyone could be walking around in this state of blackout, capable of killing you, your friends, or your partner without any motive. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be funny then.

    1. While you can’t remember what you did, did you act out of character? Obviously I mean from what your friends said. I think there’s a moral brake that precludes you from killing people on purpose, however drunk you are. That said I know someone who recently got out of prison for kicking his friend in the head when they were drunk. It was meant as a friendly kick but it killed the guy. Killing his friend was punishment enough for him, tho he got a prison sentence anyway.

      Alcohol can make people really stupid, but d’you think really evil? In vino veritas, as a bunch of very literate drunks used to say.

      I’ve only been shit-faced drunk a couple of times. I’m still friendly, maybe a bit too free with inadvisibly kissing people. Then apologising politely as I throw up. But usually before I got that drunk I’d stop. I drink for enjoyment, not personal annihilation.

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  20. Perhaps I didnt get this project. For starters you have to put 3 “icecubes” in your drink. each with a different LED.
    Didnt see any code yet so who knows how it is working.
    It seemed all a bit too predictable: after first drink ‘green’ 2nd drink yellow, 3rd drink red.
    Perhaps if you get an alcohol induced blackout after 3 drinks, maybe you dont need a device to count yr drinks. You’d be wise yo stick to only one

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