This is a reprint of an article published in the Business Record on Friday, August 31, 2018 by Kate Hayden, Staff Writer.
The Problem: Historically, individuals charged with operating while intoxicated in Iowa and other states lost their driver’s license, Intoxalock CEO Kimberly Williams said. Without public transportation or other daily means, most individuals would just drive illegally until states began allowing individuals to install breath-analyzer devices in their cars - preventing the vehicle from starting up if it detects blood alcohol concentration.
When an individual drinks, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream rather than digested, and the concentration can be exhaled by the lungs. Traditional breath analyzers use a chemical mixture that reacts to alcohol concentration in the breath, producing a color change, to detect what blood alcohol concentration is present in the device user.
However, traditional devices offered inaccurate readings, Williams said, causing problems for sober individuals who couldn’t start their cars — and perhaps allowing individuals who shouldn’t be driving to start their vehicles.
Iowa did not require individuals who were first-time offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed in their car until July 2018. Today, all drivers with temporary restricted licenses are required to have a device installed.
The Innovation: Intoxalock was the first in the industry to debut fuel cell sensors in breath analyzer devices, Williams said.
Fuel cells in the device measure breath alcohol content when the user blows into the device. When exhaled, electrical currents proportional to the amount of alcohol are generated, allowing the device to accurately measure breath alcohol content.
Recently, Intoxalock has been expanding into internet of things (IoT) capabilities for breath analyzer devices, offering real-time readings for device users and probation officers, and accurate data for state departments. The devices are leased to users until they can prove a violation-free record.
“Now, for example, if you have an issue with the device, we can do diagnostics remotely without having to have you drive to a service center and have it reviewed,” Williams said. “If you are being monitored by a probation officer, they can look at your results in real time and determine that you have or have not had any violations in your car. So it gives much better visibility to probation officers.”
How It Happened: Intoxalock launched in 1993 after a research partnership with Iowa State University’s engineering department to develop the first Intoxalock unit. The company’s in-house engineering team debuted IoT capabilities in 2012, and continues to watch transportation technology’s evolution as it impacts ignition devices.
“Vehicles are getting smarter. … Leveraging that and figuring out new ways to interface with vehicles will be something that we work on,” Williams said.
“I think autonomous vehicles are an exciting thing for us as a society. I think [Intoxalock] views them as potentially way down the road. … It’s unlikely that it’s going to make a significant impact on DUIs in the near future, because one, it’s a long way off from a technology perspective, and two, the average age of our customer’s vehicles is 11 years old,” she added. “For the foreseeable future, we definitely don’t see it as a risk to our business.”
The Payoff: Since Intoxalock Ignition Interlock first launched, it has reached 44 states in the U.S. Since Williams joined the company in October 2014, Intoxalock has grown from employing 130 people to 480.
“We found we’ve grown since we did that change,” Williams said. “We’ve grown from about a 12 percent market share in the industry to about 27-28 percent now.”
Sixty-five percent of Intoxalock’s devices are currently IoT-connected, increasing remote support for device users, and decreasing the amount of time spent at service centers to fix devices.
“The states, as part of the monitoring programs, like it because they have real-time information about the consumer and how they’re doing on the program,” Williams said. “We know it makes the consumer’s life so much easier. So it makes our life easier as a result.