Some may treat “drunk goggles” like a toy or novelty — not so with Michael Aguilar. For the president and CEO of the Verona-based Innocorp, they’re a tool for ending a major cause of death in the country.
“We see ourselves as a piece of the puzzle of stopping impaired driving,” said Aguilar.
For the past 20 years, Innocorp has been making software, eyewear and other tools for teaching people at safety demonstrations about the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Its flagship product are “Fatal Vision” goggles, with lenses that alter vision to simulate drunkenness.
Those goggles, along with the rest of their product line, helped Innocorp win the honor of “most innovative company” in the local area in a Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce competition last week.
Aguilar co-founded Innocorp in 1996 after a business partner of his, Patrick Flaherty, introduced him to the concept of drunk goggles. Aguilar said he that drunken driving had been weighing on his mind ever since an intoxicated driver nearly hit his son while he was playing in a friend’s yard in 1992.
At the time, the goggles Aguilar marked something new in the realm of hands-on drunken driving awareness and education, said Aguilar.
“No one had ever seen anything like this before,” he said. “Most of the time, impaired driving initiatives included ‘Red Asphalt' videos, where you just show the blood and gore that happens when there’s a crash.”
The goggles use special lenses that Aguilar said mimic drunken vision by shifting the wearer’s point of view. Demonstrations often involve having participants try to drive in karts on controlled tracks, or try to walk in straight lines, while wearing the goggles.
“It fools the brain into thinking that what you think is center, is not really center,” said Aguilar. “As you walk, you’re trying to adjust your balance to figure out what is really center. You’re stumbling and fumbling as if you’re impaired.”
Today, Aguilar said he has over 100 companies and organizations — mostly institutions like law enforcement agencies and traffic safety groups — buying his products. Those include the Fatal Vision goggles for drunkenness, along with goggles that simulate marijuana use and goggles that mimic double vision caused by concussions. The company also sells karts for driving demonstrations, educational software about the science of blood alcohol content, and sundry other devices and peripherals for safety education.
Aguilar said that he’s received some blowback for some of Innocorp’s products, particularly from pro-marijuana groups who feel the goggles stigmatize recreational marijuana use. Aguilar said he’s “agnostic” when it comes to recreational drinking or drug use. He simply hopes to cut back on anyone driving under the influence.
“It’s just a means to get people to talk about the issue of drug use and driving,” he said. “We’re not trying to scare people. We’re trying to get people information.”
While not as deeply researched as drunken driving, studies have shown driving while high to carry risks due to slowed reaction time and attenuated attention.
Aguilar said his company has another product in development: An electric set of goggles that would shut out vision entirely for 4.5 seconds. The premise with that product, he said, is to simulate the effects of texting while driving.