In reckoning with drunk driving, we as a society place the blame on the character of those who drink and drive. This creates a culture where if someone were in a compromised position due to alcohol, admitting to needing assistance would mean risking admitting wrongdoing and embarrassment. How can we, as a collective, take responsibility for drinking and driving without this condemnation of moral failure? Ramez Attia ’21 and Matthew Brown ’21 have a solution for drinking and driving which provides safety and care, without judgment.
Their startup, called Atmen, is an app that tests blood alcohol levels, giving consumers a definitive answer on whether they are safe to drive or not.
“Our main focus with Atmen is impact, our main goal is not profit,” Attia said. “We are trying to reduce the number of drunk driving deaths. We’re your friends, we’re here to take care of you.”
In just eight months, what began as an idea represented by a cardboard box and key during Lewis & Clark’s Winterim program is now a full-fledged, usable prototype. The current prototype includes a device that is attached to a push-to-start car’s ignition, which is then linked to a compact breathalyzer. The app records the information from the breathalyzer and presents it to the consumer. In pursuit of a design that provides simplicity, the two entrepreneurs are in the process of designing a second prototype that would not require the help of a mechanic to install it.
“The second prototype would attach to the OBD2 scanner in a car,” Brown said. “It would allow consumers to plug in the device with similar ease to charging their phone.”
The OBD2 scanner is like a computer port for your car. It is located below your steering well and can be used to monitor your vehicle, as well as operate as a plug-in for dongles.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. Needless to say, a tool like Atmen could save lives. In further development stages, the app will include extended features.
“The first feature would be a ‘best friends list,’” Brown said. “Say, if someone failed the test, they would have a list of friends nearby, so let’s call them.”
If no one on the “best friends list” is available, the app would connect to Uber, ensuring that every option is accessibly presented so the user can avoid drinking and driving.
Attia and Brown also plan for Atmen to provide a new level of safety for teen drivers. The app would be downloadable on the parent and teen’s respective phones, with the parent afforded full access to the app’s data, and the teen afforded partial access. The app would have three modes, light, medium, and strict, and the parents would be able to change the mode through the app.
“The strict setting would require a breathalyzer whenever you start your car,” Brown said. “The medium setting would require it at certain times of the night, and the light setting would send push notifications throughout the night to say, ‘Hey, we see that you are close to a bar, might be good to check yourself.’ We believe that the app will take away some of the pressure off of the people using the device, and that is all we want.”
Over the past eight months, they have already conducted interviews with over 500 families in order to develop Atmen to best serve those who need it the most.
“We have other parties who are interested in rolling this out for us on a much higher scale, but it will not reach the right people,” Attia said. “We’re in contact with organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving who can endorse us and help spread the word.”
The app will also utilize facial-recognition software in order to ensure the actual driver’s blood alcohol levels are being tested, far surpassing current breathalyzers, which are very easy to trick.
“Products before us have always punished, stigmatized and put you in a bad spotlight,” Attia said. “People respond badly to that because nobody likes to be embarrassed, especially not in public. Our approach is very simple: we are here to help. We are here to bring you home safely. We’re not telling you to stop drinking, we’re not telling you to not party. But when it comes to the part where you are getting home, leave it on us.”
Attia and Brown believe they make a great team, having started as friends before they became business partners.
“It only seemed right to work together, really,” Brown said. “We built a relationship before we became business partners so he knew exactly what he was getting from me and I knew exactly what I was getting from him.”
Their tireless dedication, tenacious innovation and teamwork have already paid off. This past October, it led them to surpass 18 teams and win the entire state finals at the Invent Oregon Collegiate Competition, winning them a collective $12,000. The win is an incredible affirmation for Brown and Attia, but this is likely just the beginning. Centered on a mission to provide care for others, Atmen is a device set to create tangible change once it hits the market.