The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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ECE Alumnus Develops Smartphone App to Alert Users of Their Inebriation Levels

Emmanuel Agu

Emmanuel Agu

UMass alumnus Emmanuel Agu, an associate professor of computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, is leading a team of researchers to develop a smartphone app that will alert people when they are too inebriated to drive capably and safely. The app judges the level of inebriation by monitoring how unsteadily the user walks, and it can also estimate the blood-alcohol level.

According to an article in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, posted on January 9 (Research & Studies), Dr. Agu says that “When people are drinking, they often don’t realize when they are over the legal limit, and that’s when they can get into trouble. If people had this hard data in front of them, I think many more would say it’s not worth the risk to get behind the wheel.”

The AlcoGait app works in the background of a person’s smartphone by continually monitoring changes in the walking behavior of the user. When the app detects a certain level of inebriation, it automatically sends a text message to the user. The app works if the user is holding the smartphone or if it is in the user’s pocket. Agu’s team estimates that the new app can also accurately predict a person’s blood-alcohol level 90 percent of the time.

Dr. Agu says that when the app is ready for commercialization, it may be linked to a person’s automobile and not allow the user to turn on the ignition. Or it may automatically link to taxi or Uber services.

Agu received his Masters and Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering at UMass Amherst. His research interests are in the areas of computer graphics, mobile computing, and wireless networks. He is especially interested in research into how to use a smartphone as a platform to deliver better healthcare. As another example beyond AlcoGait, Agu is collaborating with researchers at WPI and UMass Medical School on a National Science Foundation research project that will design and develop a mobile application to manage advanced diabetes and wound care for users with foot ulcers.

His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Army Research Labs, Google, Nvidia, and Advanced Micro Devices. His research has also been published at various conferences staged by the Association for Computing Machinery and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

In addition, Agu is the coordinator of WPI’s Mobile Graphics Research Group (MGRB). “In this group, we meet to discuss issues, tools, and research papers related with running networked graphics applications on resource-constrained mobile devices, over wireless networks,” Agu states on his website.

Agu adds that wireless networked graphics applications are becoming more pervasive on mobile devices. Computer graphics applications are computationally intensive and “resource hungry,” while mobile devices have limited resources, low bandwidths, and high error rates.

“MGRG is investigating architectures, techniques, and tools for efficient content distribution and rendering on mobile devices,” Agu says on his website. “These include architectures that enable high-end servers to assist heterogeneous mobile hosts in rendering large geometric models. Our research efforts have produced the Mobile Adaptive Distributed Graphics Framework (MADGRAF), and its sub-components such as PowerSpy, a Windows tool for fine-grain profiling of energy usage.”

Agu, who was born and raised in Nigeria, earned his B.S. in Engineering at the University of Benin in Nigeria. (January 2017)