TJ Elbert came across an idea one weekend while with his friends. He saw one use a hand-held breathalyzer before driving home.
The flashing "open" sign catches your eye at the bar. So does the color-changing electronic juke box, arcade games, and now a little machine called the Alco-Buddy.
"One of my friends has a DUI. Basically, I want to prevent my other friends and people and Iowa State students from driving home drunk because basically, it's a $10,000 fine," said Elbert, who is a junior marketing major at Iowa State University.
He's bringing the Alco-Buddy to Iowa. He created a company, Safe Living, to purchase and distribute the machines in bars and restaurants around Ames.
For a buck, you can use a straw to blow into the machine which will tell you your blood alcohol content. The Alco-Buddy is clearly marked for entertainment purposes only, but Elbert is in the patent process to change that.
"I'm actually working on something to print off so that you have a hard copy of your actual blood alcohol level," he said.
He's hoping to work with police on a way to make his breathalyzer readings legit if someone gets pulled over. He said the machine's accurate within .01.
Critics though, believe the machines may encourage people to drink by making a game out of who can blow the highest.
"It says drink responsibility on a bottle, but people don't follow that. It's up to the person," Elbert said. "And you're always going to have that person that takes advantage of your product."
"I think people see the amount that they have had, and they sit and have a few waters before they leave. That has happened," said Faith Daniels, a bartender at The Bar in Ames.
The machines are in a handful of bars in Ames and one in Des Moines.
Elbert doesn't charge the bar anything to have an Alco-Buddy. In fact, they make 10-20% of the proceeds each month. Elbert gets his money from the proceeds and companies who advertise on the machines.