By NATHAN GREGORY
Mississippi State University junior business management major Parker Stewart said he has always had business ideas, but he wanted to make one of them work.
He wanted to create a service that could help increase safety in a community while establishing financial stability for himself. After doing his homework and devising a plan to install blood alcohol content-testing vending machines in local establishments, he took his first step in accomplishing both tasks when he installed the first such machine in the state of Mississippi.
The machine, named the IntoxBox, is manufactured by Walden Innovative Resources LLC, and was installed at Rick’s Cafe on Jan. 4.
Stewart said he has been working on ideas for start-up companies before he opted to pursue an education in business, and he has had assistance from the MSU business school as well as companies he has contacted.
“I had a lot of help from the MSU Entrepreneurship Center. They helped me finish up my business plan,” Stewart said. “I made a lot phone calls, contacted several manufacturers of different (BAC-testing) vending machines and several people who are distributing now and are successful at it. They were very responsive and helpful in getting my project off the ground. I got in touch with (Walden Innovative Resources President Ryan Walden) and we worked out a deal. I was able to get exclusivity for the entire state of Mississippi.”
Stewart said after doing research on several manufacturers, he felt the IntoxBox was the best option because of the quality of its equipment.
“This machine is accurate because (it uses) fuel cell sensors which have accuracy of .005 percent at a .01 blood alcohol content,” he said. “The fuel cell sensor is better than the semiconductor sensor which a lot of machines use. The type of sensor makes a difference in the amount of accuracy.”
Stewart said he wanted to emphasize the machine is intended to educate potential users about blood alcohol content levels and not to gauge whether restaurant or bar patrons can get behind the wheel without compromising the safety of other drivers. The legal limit of blood alcohol content defined by the state for drivers who are subjected to tests is .08 percent.
“One of my initial fears was if I get into these machines and place them in any establishment that serves alcohol — what are the chances that somebody could sue and say these machines caused them to make a bad decision?” Stewart said. “This may be a business, but it’s really about keeping the community safe and helping people make better informed decisions. It’s about keeping roads safe and encouraging responsibility. It’s more of an educational tool than anything.”
In order to stress that the machine functions strictly as an educational use, users have to agree to an on-screen waiver before they can use the machine, Stewart said.
“The waiver indemnifies the manufacturer, myself and the establishment where the machine is located against liability of people causing damage after making a bad decision to drink and drive,” he said. “It doesn’t store any kind of blood alcohol content information and doesn’t print out any receipt with time, date or BAC blown. It’s not a state-administered machine and not given by a state official. It’s also in an unsuitable environment because of the smoke and alcohol.”
Once they agree to the waiver, users of the machine can use cash or a credit card to pay $2 for one test or $3 for five. The user is then prompted to guess his or her BAC from anywhere between .01 to .3 before using a straw to blow into the machine.
Stewart said the vending machine is highly accurate because the sample takes breath from the lungs rather than the mouth.
“The way the sensor works is it’s closed so it can take the reading. After it takes reading it opens up and a fan blows it off to dry it out and clean the sensor after each use. It cleans itself out after each use and waits until the user’s breath begins to drop off before it takes the sample,” he said. “After it takes the reading, it takes a second to analyze it and brings up your guess and what your BAC actually is on the screen. If you guess correctly, you win a free test and receive a promotional code for your next use.”
Stewart said he is arranging to implement a free cab call feature on the machine in the near future.
“(Users of the machine) would push a button at top of screen and type in their phone number. It sends message to a cab company in town, and a driver texts you letting you know how long it will take to get there,” he said. “People could then show the text to the driver when he gets there so nobody else takes the cab. It alleviates frustration and keeps people off the roads. They wouldn’t even have to use their cell phones — they would just have to type in their number — and they don’t even have to search for the cab company or number because it’s already linked up.”
Stewart said he hopes to partner with Starkville Police Department and Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office and use the IntoxBox to help promote responsibility.
“I would like for people — wherever they go out and drink — to be able to know how much they’ve had so they can make the best decision,” he said.
SPD Chief David Lindley said any tool which can be used to promote safety on the roadways is positive for the community.
“I am in favor of anything that will keep people from driving while they are impaired. I think this is something that could be worthwhile, but more research is needed,” he said. “Obviously, my advice is not to drink to any degree before driving; that way you don’t have to worry about the accuracy of any instrument to make the right decision.”
Stewart said he hopes to expand the presence of the vending machines in more Starkville establishments as well as others throughout the state.
“I’ve written a full business plan as well as a marketing plan, and I’m working a lot with the Entrepreneurship Center. They’re helping to make my goals very specific and definite in that I always have clearly defined next steps,” Stewart said. “I have long-term goals for this. The goal is to do it one machine at a time, and I think it will build on itself. As people grow to know about it, they’ll talk about it. The accuracy is what’s really key here.”