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Tech

A breathalyzer at every bar?

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Daniel Robison
/
WNED
Ladybug Teknologies will use tablet touchscreens hooked up to a breathalyzer in bars. CEO Chris Montag (above) tests a prototype.

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wned/local-wned-973088.mp3

A small company in Buffalo is trying to change the way people drink. Ladybug Teknologies envisions a future where breathalyzer kiosks are available in bars so patrons have the ability to check their level of intoxication before getting behind the wheel.

To hatch their idea, Ladybug officials have barnacled to a local business incubator.

Imagine this

Just about every bar has an ATM tucked away in a corner. Now, what if that were an attractive, colorful, user-friendly breathalyzer?

“We always draw the analogy with using a breathalyzer to having a speedometer in your car. It really is just a tool to give you knowledge,” says Chris Montag, CEO of Ladybug Teknologies, which has undergone a few business models since its launch in 2002. 

Currently, the company’s focus is on bringing breathalyzer technology to gathering places – not selling individual units to individuals.

“From a drinking perspective, it’s something we’ve done for hundreds of years and nobody’s ever had a tool and we guess that we know we’re okay. But really how do you know if you’ve never been able to measure it?” she says.

Drinking and driving has declined over the past few decades thanks to hand-in-hand efforts by law enforcement and the justice system to mount an aggressive crack down on the practice.

But Montag says, the threat of a DUI conviction can only go so far.

“You’ve probably been driving at that level feeling okay for years. But chances are when you’ve blown a breathalyzer you’ll have a quick reality check that you’re not,” Montag says.

So, Ladybug feels like they have a good idea. Now what?

Work continues on a prototype of the Ladybug kiosk’s touch screen at the University at Buffalo’s Technology Incubator at the Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach in Amherst. Ladybug’s headquarters is one room – half of it serving as space for Montag’s desk and the other half a laboratory, full with black stainless counter tops and faucets that resemble a high school chemistry classroom.

Through the incubator, Ladybug receives cheap rent, unlimited advice, legal help, and consulting to questions like, ‘So how will Ladybug convince bars to take in a machine that could indirectly tell many of its customers they’ve had enough to drink?’

The answer, thanks to consulting:

“It takes the pressure off for those that are afraid to leave their house and go out for a drink. They’ll be able to have that one drink or that second drink and be able to relax as well,” Montag says.

And, to inspire acceptance of the idea, Ladybug will market the device as a solution to a problem – like public safety, by keeping more intoxicated drivers off the road.

“Increased penalties doesn’t seem to be solving the problem anymore,” Montag says.

But will the incubator’s help be enough to overcome the hiccups in planning the launch of an unproven product? How to account for the possibility of groups out drinking staging contests to see who can reach the highest level of intoxication quantified by Ladybug’s kiosk?

And how to make it sanitary? After all you have to put your mouth on the breathalyzer to breathe into it.

“Essentially what we’re using is the old fashioned gumball machine. This will drop out of the little plastic egg is what this will be in. Another opportunity for advertising,” Montag says.

That’s right, to help with revenue, the kiosk, the screen and the plastic breathalyzer mouthpieces will be canvases for two-for-one appetizer deals and ads for taxi companies.

Ladybug’s short term plan is to place the kiosks in a few bars around Buffalo and in Florida this fall and gather data from how people use them.

The hope is those observations and lessons are compelling for enough bars to want the kiosks to constitute a critical mass where bar-goers can count on and eventually integrate using Ladybug’s product into their everyday drinking experiences.  

And in that culture change lies Ladybug’s profit. 

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