LaVonda Brown developed an interest in eye-tracking during her time at Georgia Tech. The fascination with all the information that can be derived by scanning the so-called "windows to the soul" formed the foundation of EyeGage, one of the 20 companies competing at this year’s Disrupt Startup Battlefield.
The startup’s entry into the TechCrunch competition arrives as EyeGage launches its first product: an app designed to let users know if they’re sober enough to drive. If not, they’ll get a big red “Do Not Drive” warning and a link to call either an Uber or Lyft. The application is free and serves a dual purpose. In addition to the obvious consumer-facing purposes, it doubles as an opt-in for EyeGage’s growing dataset of eyes.
“Consumers can download the app, take pictures of their eyes and then we can suggest whether or not they should use ride-share. Essentially not driving, based on their eyes,” explains Brown. “That is free. I like to call it a barter subscription service. They give us pictures and videos of their eyes and we give them access to the technology so they can make a responsible decision.”
The app is the most forward-facing aspect of EyeGage’s business at the moment — and like most of what the company does, it will go toward building out its dataset of eyes. The company will start with measuring the impact of alcohol on various aspects of the eyes, including studies it’s currently conducting with participants in a federally approved testing facility. Those who sign forms to participate will drink booze, while the company collects images and videos of their eyes, along with a blood sample.
Marijuana is next on the list, given its current legal status in certain states. Other drugs like opioids, amphetamines and benzodiazepines will be more difficult to gather, though hospitals and clinics that mete out legal versions of these substances could prove a good source for collecting that data — with the proper consent.
Brown says workplace environments are a logical next step, as well. Law enforcement is also on the list, though there are various hurdles to attaining those sorts of partnerships. “We’re targeting high-risk workplaces like construction, manufacturing and transportation. In those industries in particular they have a high rate of drug and alcohol use,” she tells TechCrunch.
There may also be a potential use for the company’s dataset beyond its immediate use for detecting substances in the body.
“Monitoring eye behavior can be used for so many domains,” Brown adds. “And, of course, you can identify someone by their eyes. It can be used to diagnose certain illnesses, concussions or diabetes, and it can be used in different market segments. Your eyes are so informative about what’s going on in your body. They can tell if you’ve had caffeine, depending on how it responds to light. If it’s too fast, it’s some kind of stimulant. If it’s too slow, it’s some kind of depressant.”
EyeGage has raised $142,455 to date. That includes $42,455 in pre-seed from friends and family, as well as a recent award of $100,000 from Google Black Founders Fund.