A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.
Have you ever had a couple of drinks, started to feel a mild buzz and wondered if you’re over the legal limit? If you’ve had drinks in a public setting, the answer is likely “Heck yes.”
A Santa Barbara based company, Milo Sensors, is tackling this problem via a wearable that constantly alerts your smartphone of your blood alcohol level. No longer will people have to estimate how impaired they may, or may not be, based on how much they have eaten, how many drinks they’ve had and how quickly they consumed them.
If consumer adoption becomes widespread, Milo’s unique solution could dramatically reduce the incidence of buzzed driving.
Intrigued to learn more, I reached out to Evan Strenk, the company’s Co-Founder and CEO.
John Greathouse: Hi Evan, thanks for agreeing to chat, I know you have your hands full that the moment as you roll out your alcohol wearable, PROOF™.
I know Milo Sensors was hatched at UCSB. Many of the companies that are spawned at the University emerge from the Technology Management Program, but Milo is an exception. I love origin stories. What was the company’s genesis?
Evan Strenk: Thanks John, it’s my pleasure. We started Milo Sensors over two years ago through the UC Santa Barbara New Venture Competition. Our team was comprised of mostly graduate students, and I had already graduated and working in the footwear industry for Deckers Brands. As such, none of us had the benefit of your TMP classes (laughs).
Our team formed around the idea that wearable technology needed to dramatically improve. We noticed that rather than relying on step counting or heart rate, we could use the superhighway of small molecules that stream out of the skin all the time to provide continuous data about our body’s health. These small molecules are byproducts of body and organ function and can provide dozens of health-related biomarkers, without a single drop of blood.
Greathouse: I’m no scientist, but that sounds like a pretty daunting engineering challenge. You’ve been at it for two years. I know that you just released your first product, PROOF™, as I participated in your recent crowdfunding campaign. Tell me a bit about how it works and why you chose alcohol as your first sensor?
Strenk: Yes, we launched PROOF™ on Indiegogo – thanks for helping us blow way past our initial goal, selling out of our first batch in 7 days!
PROOF™ is a Fitbit-like wearable for reading blood alcohol content (BAC). When you have any alcoholic drink, the ethanol (aka alcohol) in that drink goes into your stomach then into your bloodstream. Some alcohol molecules you breathe out, and a small percentage diffuse naturally through your skin.
Our enzymatic electrochemical sensor cartridge converts the alcohol leaving your skin into an electrical current that is amplified, digitized, and sent via bluetooth to a smartphone, where our algorithms convert it into an estimate of BAC. PROOF™ is the first alcohol tracking wearable, and quite unique in that it detects very specific molecules.
Greathouse: Given that technology is core to your company’s growth, what did you look for in employees as you built your team?
Strenk: Absolutely, we are a hardware-centric, technology-driven company. Our name says it all: Milo Sensors, we build cutting-edge sensor technology and have assembled a team with expertise, immense drive, and a multi-disciplinary background. Multi-disciplinary background being probably the most important.
For example, I graduated from UCSB’s Film & Media program and worked at Deckers Brands in the footwear industry before starting Milo Sensors. Bob Lansdorp, Milo Sensors’ CTO and co-founder, transitioned from academic research with a background in mechanical engineering, nanotechnology, microfluidics, and a Ph.D in Materials from UCSB. Our Mechanical Engineer has a background in theater, and our Materials Research Engineer can code in C++. Having multi-disciplinary backgrounds enables us to tackle decisions faster and keeps us flexible when approaching new challenges.
Greathouse: I am a big fan of startups with a purpose. In the near term, Milo will reduce the number of impaired drivers, machine operators, etc. In the long run, you’re poised to impact the wearable diagnostic market. To what extent does this sense of purpose drive the company’s culture?
Strenk: Sense of purpose is the motivation for everything we do at Milo Sensors. We strive to have a positive impact on people’s health and decision-making by giving them information they’ve never had access to before. It’s a mentality engrained in our team’s blood, and it invigorates us to work harder to create revolutionary products that will change lives. The future of wearables is just beginning and we are the pioneers.
Greathouse: Why create your own wearable? Couldn’t your sensor be integrated into a Fitbit or Apple Watch?
Strenk: That’s a great question. We believe that the progression of wearable technology is ultimately linked to the sensor technology it contains. We created our own wristband with the first electrochemical sensor of its kind. We had to prove that it can be done first before others integrate (with) it. That being said, our sensor tech could certainly be integrated into the activity trackers that are already in the consumer space. In the future, as more sensors are developed, I think we’ll start to see them clustered in a single wearable able to detect dozens of biomarkers at once.
Greathouse: Yea, it makes sense that standard platforms will be established. Thanks again for taking the time to chat. I have one final question – how will the future of wearables evolve in the coming decade?
Strenk: Ten years ago, when Fitbit was still a startup company, wearables were centered around the promise of remote patient monitoring. That promise is still very real and absolutely achievable, but we are approaching the limit of accelerometers and heart rate sensors to provide meaningful insights into human health and body function.
At Milo, we are pushing the boundaries of non-invasive molecule detection. Beginning with volatile organic compounds such as ethanol, we are working on cracking the code for continuous non-invasive monitoring of targeted transdermal analytes, which will open the doors to early detection and treatment of chronic illness, conditions, and diseases. That is the future and promise of wearable technology.
Greathouse: Good. I am aging daily, so the faster such technologies evolve, the better for old folks like me <laughs>. Thanks again Evan – best the luck to you and your team.
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Photo Credit: Milo Sensors