- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It’s a whiz-bang idea. The talking urinal has arrived, with a message that is hard to miss.

“There is no more captive audience than a man standing at a urinal,” said bioengineer Richard Deutsch, inventor of the Wizmark interactive urinal communicator, a motion-sensitive, battery-operated device about the size of one of those pine-scented sanitizers found in the typical public toilet bowl.

But the Wizmark is no potty mouth. With miniature screen ablaze with graphics, it dispenses a stern, 15-second public-service announcement to the gentleman in question, once he is — ahem — “properly positioned,” Mr. Deutsch said.

“Hey you. Yeah, you. Having a few drinks? Then listen up,” the device intones. “Think you’ve had one too many? Maybe it’s time to call a cab or call a sober friend for a ride home.”

Although the device does not include, say, a breathalyzer test or even a breath mint, it’s strategically located. The men’s room is often the last place a tipsy patron visits before heading home, and a talking urinal could provide an effective cautionary tale, Mr. Deutsch said.

“When nature calls, there is something educational to look at and listen to,” he said.

Both the medium and the message resonated with one densely populated New York region. The Nassau County Police traffic-safety division has offered 100 free Wizmarks to area bars and restaurants, paid for through drunk-driving fines.

The program got under way over Memorial Day weekend, introduced by Republican state Sen. Charles Fuschillo of Merrick and Democratic Assembly member Thomas DiNapoli of Great Neck as part of a zero-tolerance campaign in the county.

Wizmark has won accolades from Dedicatedd, a local advocacy group that crusades for the rights of those killed or injured by drunken drivers.

“I took one into a bar myself just to get feedback, and first people were going, ‘what the heck.’ Then they thought it was great,” said Marge Lee, the group’s president. “Once the devices are in place, we’ll be doing some exit polls, if you’ll pardon the expression, to see if they work.”

Wizmark already has had a few field trials. Manufactured by Long Island, N.Y.-based Healthquest Technologies, the chatty unit has been promoted on MTV and Country Music Television since it was introduced in 2004. Other marketers who print commercial messages on tissue or vanity mirrors have not overlooked public restrooms as advertising vehicles — a trend called “washroom media.”

Meanwhile, a “sit-down” version of Wizmark for women’s restrooms has been developed, ideal for “information of vital interest to women, like health issues,” Mr. Deutsch said, adding that youngsters could also benefit.

“We have anti-drug messages ready, and we can adjust them to appeal to little tykes, as well as high-schoolers,” he said. “It comes down to the fact that people will pay attention to the message because of where it’s delivered.”

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