If These Urinals Could Talk …

Some northern Michigan bar-goers reveling in Fourth of July holiday festivities near the lakes will encounter the requisite anti-drunken driving message in an unexpected place: urinals.

The Michigan State Police's Office of Highway Safety Planning is experimenting with an "interactive urinal communicator," a fancy-sounding moniker for a urinal cake that talks.

Yes, you read that correctly. Talking urinal cakes. The police see it as an innovative way curb drunken driving in four Michigan counties that are waterfront areas prone to hard partying.

Called Wizmark (pun obviously intended), the waterproof cakes are made by Healthquest Technologies in Crownsville, Md. They contain a microcomputer that can record an audio message of up to 15 seconds, and can also display flashing lights and scrolling text messages on a 3.5-inch screen.

Anne Readett, chief of the highway safety planning office, said her office hoped that using the Wizmark to combat drunken driving "might turn some heads."

Her office has collaborated with the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association to distribute the talking urinal cakes in bars and restaurants, complete with a female voice that says, "Hey, listen up. Yeah, I'm talking to you. Had a few drinks? Maybe a few too many? Do yourself and everyone else a favor. Call a sober friend or a cab. And don't forget: Wash your hands."

Bioengineer Richard Deutsch got the idea for Wizmark five years ago while using an airport urinal. "There should be something there to entertain or interest the individual," he thought. He figured he'd be able to target a captive audience with urinal cakes bearing ads or messages, since according to urinal etiquette, men are not to look to the left or right (read: eye contact is a no-no). And so the Wizmark was born.

When a man approaches the urinal, the Wizmark's motion-control sensor activates a prerecorded message of choice -a there's a 10-second delay to allow for unzipping, of course.

Each Wizmark lasts for about 10,000 to 18,000 cycles, or about three to five months in the typical bar. The model with the audio message costs $24.50, and the version with just the flashing light costs $18.50 (but both contain the screen with scrolling text). Deutsch sells tens of thousands of Wizmarks each year.

"Everybody remembers the message they see in the talking urinal," he said.

Deutsch said the Wizmark is being used in 26 states and in five countries for messages, offering messages about safe sex, condoms and other public safety issues, but also to promote movies and TV shows.

"In order to get through the advertising clutter … we've found at least one way of getting people's attention," he said.

Lest the ladies feel left out, Deutsch has also created the Tellaview, a similar device that can be attached to a bathroom stall door and blares a preprogrammed audio message and flashing lights.

"We're equal misery opportunity inventors," he joked.

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