It's likely that at some point in your life you've employed the awkward smelling-your-own-breath maneuver, to see if that garlicky lunch left you unfit for human interaction. Maybe you found yourself thinking, "There must be a better way!" Well, now there is. Breathometer, the same company that invented the Bluetooth-connected breathalyzer Breeze, has now developed a small device called Mint that measures both breath quality and hydration—all in one discreet suck.
"So, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about . . ."
You may have heard of the Silicon Valley startup when its founder and CEO Charles Michael Yim took to the screen to pitch his idea for the first smartphone breathalyzer on Shark Tank back in September 2013. With the success of that original version and its Bluetooth-enabled brother, Breeze, Yim and his team felt ready to take on the worlds of halitosis and hydration. "Mint was a part of the original roadmap when I founded the company," Yim explains. "Alcohol and breath quality were the two markets that were well understood and low-hanging fruit in terms of building a solid business. The plan was to build a platform-based model first and then repurpose the sensors for different applications. Breath quality is only one of many."
Seeing oral hygiene as directly linked to breath quality and overall body wellness, Yim envisioned Mint as a product naturally poised to monitor both. "Mint is the first portable and connected breath analysis device for consumers that is medical grade," he says. "When Mint is placed inside your lips, it'll suck air from your mouth and within a few seconds provide a numeric measurement and visual display of your current condition." That vacuum-like suck is one of the big differentiators between Mint and Breeze (aside from their function), as each device's air sampling is different based on the biomarkers they are trying to detect.
Breathometer based part of the technology for Mint on the Halimeter, a laboratory-grade instrument designed and used by dentists and periodontists to measure volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) found in the air expelled by patients. These compounds are the same ones that affect breath quality and oral health. With Mint, the Breathometer team shrunk the size of that technology, making it both portable and Bluetooth compatible. "Fitting several electrical components into such a small device and within a specific industrial design while maintaining accuracy, power management and usability was one of the biggest challenges," Yim says.
To track hydration levels, Tim Ratto, Breathometer's VP of research and development, and his team looked to existing methods used by medical professionals. From that research, the team was able to develop and incorporate into Mint a technique for measuring the hydration levels of the tissues in the mouth and throat. These measurements are then sent wirelessly via Bluetooth to a paired smartphone, which collects the transmitted data and analyzes it over time, making suggestions to its user for improvement in oral hygiene and water consumption (like the ever-helpful "You need a mint"). The information can also be viewed online, via the Breathometer web portal.
With two breath sensors under his belt, Yim had already built out a team of experts and manufacturers, making it much faster to prototype and create the accompanying hardware for Mint, which shares the same shape and form as its predecessor, Breeze, designed by San Francisco-based New Deal Design (NDD). The housing for the device takes its inspiration from a modern-day whistle, a design that came out of an immersion session with the NDD team where they brainstormed forms that evoked emotion and inspired usage and familiarity. Vigorous rounds of ergonomics testing were done to see how the device felt when users blow into it, place their mouths around it, or hold it in their hands. "There is always tweaking at the final steps, especially during the mass manufacturing phase," Yim says. "But the team did their best to stay true to the original design of both Breeze and now Mint."
Mint uses medical-grade plastics and other coatings in its outer casing, carefully selected as to not cause off-gassing to the sensors and ultimately create false positives—or worse. Within the casing lies a custom and patented electro-chemical printed fuel-cell sensor, a rechargeable lithium battery, a circuit board, Bluetooth antennae and a few other sub-sensors all developed using fluid mechanics—and primarily sourced from an exclusive sensor manufacturer in the United States.
Once components for Mint are sourced, they are sent to a factory in Asia for quality-assurance testing before manufacturing begins. A strict quality-assurance process follows the build, as well as when the products arrive in the United States for shipping to retailers and direct consumers.
At least, this is how Yim expects the rest of the process will go, based on his experience with Breeze. Right now, he still has work to do before Mint is ready for the market. Next on his agenda is to conduct beta testing with users to perfect the hardware and software, following the end of the Mint Indiegogo campaign, which reached its $25,000 fundraising goal within 48 hours and still has a little under two months to go.
Carly Ayres is a writer using language and interaction to engage people in new and interesting ways. She previously penned "In the Details," Core77's weekly deep-dive into the making of a new product or project. Along the way, she covered rugs with dinosaurs, shrink-wrapped buildings, kinetic military boots, and a myriad of other topics. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design and lives in New York.