12:01am

Thu November 10, 2011
Technology

Before Leaving The Bar, A Chance To Breathalyze

Originally published on Thu November 10, 2011 1:11 pm

Imagine driving without a speedometer and still trying to go the speed limit. Chris Montag, chief operating officer of Ladybug Teknologies, says that's analogous to going out drinking without a Breathalyzer.

"It's something we've done for hundreds of years, and nobody's ever had a tool and we guess ... that we're OK," Montag says. "But, really, how do you know when you've never been able to measure it?"

Most people know 0.08 is the legal limit for driving under the influence of alcohol in the U.S., yet few know when they've hit it or what it feels like. Montag wants to change that by placing interactive Breathalyzer-type monitors in bars.

So Ladybug Teknologies has designed a touch-screen device about the size of an ATM. Users pay $5 and receive a small plastic mouthpiece to attach to the machine. After blowing hard for 5 seconds, the screen flashes a user's blood alcohol level in large, bold numbers. Then, a coupon for a taxi company prints out.

'People Think They're OK'

One of the machines, dubbed the SipSmart kiosk, recently made its debut at Caputi's, a bar in suburban Buffalo. It's the kind of place where most patrons drive home.

"I don't know what exact 0.08 is, no. I don't know what that legal drunk limit is. I don't know what feeling that is or anything," says 21-year old James Wanglin, a regular here. He says his group usually has a designated driver, but many groups don't.

"People think they're OK, and that's the problem — they aren't," Wanglin says.

To guide Wanglin and others to the kiosk, Ladybug's Joe Rank works the crowd, wearing a backward baseball cap and a shirt that reads "Blow Me." Rank tries to inspire drinkers to work the blood-alcohol monitor into their routines.

"We're going around [to help] promote, getting people toward the machine to actually use it and figure out what it is. Mostly, it sits there and not everyone really can tell what it is," he says.

While some are too embarrassed to use it in a social setting, many young drinkers are naturally drawn to the machine, Rank says, for entertainment and gaming.

"I see it more with the younger crowd; they're going see how high they can get their blood alcohol level," he says, "where an older crowd is going to use it ... for the more responsible way, to know that, 'Alright, I have to drive home. What [level] am I at?' "

Limitations To The Device

But Ladybug doesn't want its readings to be taken as gospel. In fact, a legal disclaimer on the machine says it's just an educational tool. Ladybug CEO Sherry Colbourne says her company and bar owners assume no liability even if a user blows over the legal limit and still gets behind the wheel.

"We're all grown adults, and certainly by the time you're allowed to drink, you're sufficiently mature enough to be able to understand the consequences of bad decision-making," Colbourne says.

But using the machine requires some expertise. To provide an accurate sample, users must wait 15 minutes after their last drink. Intoxication levels constantly change, meaning you could be at 0.07 now but blow 0.09 just a few minutes later. Plus, Ladybug's Montag says she's had trouble placing the kiosks: Bar owners see them as a threat to their bottom line.

"They fear that if people actually knew what their legal limit was and that they were over the 0.08 that they would actually in fact stop drinking sooner," Montag says. "The fear of that knowledge being out there is, they think that might hit their revenue."

Soon, Ladybug will launch an app to send the monitor's results straight to a user's smartphone. It will even chart intoxication levels over time, so users can better associate a feeling with a number.

Copyright 2012 WNED-FM. To see more, visit http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wned/arts.artsmain.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now let's turn to the story of a different tech startup. A near Buffalo wants to place interactive breathalyzers in bars. From member station WNED, Daniel Robison has more.

DANIEL ROBISON, BYLINE: Imagine driving without a speedometer and still trying to go the speed limit. Chris Montag thinks this is similar to going out drinking without a breathalyzer.

CHRIS MONTAG: I mean, it's something that we've done for hundreds of years, and nobody's ever had a tool. And we guess and we think we know that we're okay. But really, how do you know if you've never been able to measure it?

ROBISON: So Montag's company, Ladybug Teknologies, has designed a touch-screen breathalyzer about the size of an ATM. Users pay $5 and receive a small, plastic mouthpiece to attach to the machine. After blowing hard for five seconds, the screen flashes a user's blood alcohol level in large, bold numbers. Then a coupon for a taxi company prints out.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

ROBISON: Tonight, one of the machines - dubbed the SipSmart kiosk - is debuting at Caputi's, a bar in suburban Buffalo. It's the kind of place where most patrons drive home.

JAMES WANGLIN: I don't know what exact .08 is, no. You know, I don't know what that legal drunk limit is. You know, I don't know what feeling that is or anything.

ROBISON: Twenty-one-year old James Wanglin is a regular here and says his group usually has a designated driver. But many don't.

WANGLIN: People think they're okay, and that's the problem. They aren't.

ROBISON: To guide James and others to the kiosk, Ladybug's Joe Rank works the crowd, wearing a backwards baseball cap and a shirt that reads Blow Me. He tries to inspire drinkers to work the breathalyzer into their routines.

JOE RANK: We're going around. We're helping promote getting people toward the machine, to actually use it and figure out what it is, because it's mostly kind of - it sits there, and not everyone really can tell what it is.

ROBISON: While some are too embarrassed to use it in a social setting, many young drinkers are naturally drawn to the machine, Rank says, for entertainment and gaming.

RANK: I see it more with the younger crowd, like, with the younger crowd. They're going see how high they can get their blood alcohol level, where an older crowd is going to use it kind of for the more responsible way, to know that, all right, I have to drive home. What am I at?

ROBISON: But Ladybug doesn't want its breathalyzer readings to be taken as gospel. In fact, a legal disclaimer on the machine says it's just an educational tool. Ladybug CEO Sherry Colbourne says her company and bar owners assume no liability, even if a user blows over the legal limit and still gets behind the wheel.

SHERRY COLBOURNE: You know, come on, now. We're all grown adults, and certainly by the time you're allowed to drink, you're sufficiently mature enough to be able to understand the consequences of, you know, bad decision-making.

ROBISON: But using the machine requires some expertise. To provide an accurate sample, users must wait 15 minutes after their last drink. And intoxication levels constantly change, meaning you could be at .07 now, but blow .09 just a few minutes later. Plus, Ladybug's Chris Montag says she's had trouble placing the breathalyzers. Bar owners see them as a threat to their bottom line.

MONTAG: They fear that if people actually knew what their legal limit was and that they were over the .08, that they would actually, in fact, stop drinking sooner. You know, the fear of that knowledge being out there is they think that might hit their revenue.

ROBISON: Soon, Ladybug will launch an app to send breathalyzer results straight to a user's smartphone. It will chart intoxication levels over time, so users can better correspond a feeling with a number. For NPR News, I'm Daniel Robison in Buffalo, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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