Global NGO showcases new technology in member newsletter
Together for Safer Roads is a global NGO dedicated to road safety around the world. Members are from leading government, and community stakeholders to achieve Vision Zero—the elimination of all traffic fatalities and severe injuries. In a Q&A session, Executive Director Peter Goldwasser connected with Impairment Science CEO, Rob Schiller, to learn more about the company's mission to improve workplace safety using neuroscience.
Innovation Interview: The Druid App When we first heard about the Druid app – a fast, accurate and inexpensive new tool for measuring impairment and promoting safety – we knew we wanted to have a conversation with their founders to learn more. Recently we were able to connect with them and ask some questions.
1) Tell us about the history of Druid. Why did you and your team create it?
The Druid app was conceived and created by Michael Milburn, PhD, retired Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts/Boston. Dr. Milburn understood that while drug tests for cannabis detect its bodily evidence for up to three weeks or more after consumption, the impairment caused by cannabis lasts only for one to three hours. Therefore, when used for purposes of detecting impairment, cannabis testing is of no value.
In 2016, with the increasing decriminalization of cannabis, and the resulting risks to driving safety, Dr. Milburn conceived the idea of applying neuroscience research and computer science to detect cannabis impairment.
With degrees from Stanford and Harvard, and a specialty in research methods, measurement, and statistics, Dr. Milburn was particularly well prepared to create a quick, accurate, and inexpensive test that enabled people to make safer, more informed decisions about their behavior, reducing injury and saving lives.
In 2016, Dr. Milburn incorporated the company as DRUIDapp and launched the first version.
After two years of research and experimentation to improve the app and confirm its accuracy, the company sought and received an SBIR grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to undertake research in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. That research, published by JHSM in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in November 2021 demonstrated the accuracy, sensitivity, and validity of Druid to detect and measure cannabis impairment.
In 2020, the company – renamed Impairment Science, Inc. – launched Druid Enterprise for companies and other organizations seeking to increase workplace and driving safety, decrease the costs of worker injury, and boost productivity. Druid Enterprise, a complement to the Druid app, is a management portal, database, and analytical engine that tracks and analyzes the Druid scores of company employees or organization members.
2) What is novel about it? How does it approach the issue of impairment differently and why is doing so important?
Tests for drugs and alcohol, particularly cannabis tests, are of limited value for promoting safety because while they test for the presence and amount of chemical substances in a person’s body, they do not measure actual on-the-job impairment. This distinction, as several recent court judgments have recognized, is important. In addition, drug and alcohol tests cannot detect impairment due to fatigue, chronic conditions, illness, prescribed medications, injury, or severe emotional stress. Druid detects cognitive and physical impairment whatever the cause – or combination of causes - might be.
Druid uses neuroscience-based assessment methods to determine a worker’s level of cognitive and motor impairment. Specifically, Druid calculates an impairment score based on a balance test and three game-like, divided-attention tasks that assess reaction time, decision-making accuracy, hand-eye coordination, and time estimation. In general, an elevated Druid impairment score means that a worker is at greater risk.
Druid detects cognitive and physical impairment whatever the cause – or combination of causes - might be. Druid can establish whether and to what degree someone is impaired but not the cause. As such, Druid serves as a screening device. The app alerts management that an individual has an elevated score, after which additional steps can be taken to determine whether that individual is currently fit for duty.
Each year, more than 1.2 million people are fatally injured and an estimated 20–50 million are injured worldwide due to motor vehicle crashes. Human factors – specifically, “error, impairment, fatigue, and distraction" – are the basic cause of 65-95% of road accidents. Clearly, any test that can expand the screening for such human factors will be of immense societal and economic value.
As a cognitive impairment test, it is Druid’s superior accuracy that makes it novel. The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the November 2021 issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology article, which demonstrated Druid’s accuracy and sensitivity to detect and measure cannabis impairment, concluded that Druid "was the most sensitive measure of impairment when compared to the other cognitive performance tasks administered (i.e., the DSST, DAT, and PASAT) as well as several common field sobriety tests (i.e., the WT, OLS, and MRB).”
Interview Excerpt: "We hope that impairment testing in general – and Druid in particular – will become widely adopted around the world as a means for protecting workers, co-workers, and bystanders from harm and injury, thus making workplaces safer and more efficiently operated. It can also have tremendous implications for the safety of fleet drivers and all those who share the road."
3) Do you have any case studies/examples of real-world applications that you can tell us about?
Here are two examples:
Our first customer, Impala Canada’s Lac des Illes Mine in Ontario, a deep palladium mine, planned to increase its drug testing in the wake of the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada. Impala’s union aggressively opposed such plans. Seeking an alternative, Impala researched impairment testing and brought Druid to the union for their consideration. When the union understood that Druid was not a drug or alcohol test, but rather a fitness-for-duty test, and that it was non-stigmatizing because it did not identify the causes of impairment, the union agreed to participate.
Druid tests were administered at the start and end of each shift. Mine management, comparing test scores of different work shifts, found it particularly helpful in assessing fatigue and testing alternative shift scheduling. Such was the management’s enthusiasm for Druid that it drafted its own case study for presentation to the Ontario Mining Association.
At the Highland Park (TX) Department of Public Safety, all officers split their time equally in any work shift between police, fire, and EMT duties. The department wished to determine whether a shift of 24 hours on, 48 hours off, was more or less fatiguing than a shift of 48 hours on, 96 hours off. Over a period of months, all officers took the Druid test at multiple prescribed times during both 24 and 48-hour shifts. It turned out, counterintuitively, that Druid scores showed that officers were less fatigued on the longer shift than on the shorter shift. Highland Park adopted the longer shift for all its officers and continues to monitor them with Druid.
4) Any hiccups along the road? What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced?
At least initially, technological innovations that challenge deeply entrenched ways of thinking and operating often encounter resistance in the marketplace. It is no different for impairment testing. Having an app that applies the findings of neuroscience research, as Druid does, broadens the scope of businesses' ability to determine their employees’ fitness for duty from any cause or combination of causes. And it does so very quickly (1 minute), accurately, and inexpensively. For less than the cost of a standard 10-panel drug test, which can be used only once and tests only for 10 specified drugs, an employer can get an unlimited number of Druid tests for a year.
Adopting Druid requires a paradigm shift and is therefore facing the market friction we would expect. Employers and employees are habituated to drug testing, regardless of its cost, limitations, and deficiencies. Changing organizational systems is difficult, but with company owners and managers coming to realize the limitations of alcohol and drug testing and the significant advantages of impairment testing, we are making inroads in several business sectors.
5) Talk to us about potential privacy concerns. Are there any? How is this information kept safe and secure?
There should be no privacy concerns about Druid.
Druid and Druid Enterprise conform to standard security protocols and data privacy practices. User information is stored on a secure, encrypted database system. Druid user data is never shared with any third parties. It is reviewed internally by ISI staff for quality assurance purposes, for providing customers with feedback, and for improving the product.
6) What is your hope for both Druid and the wider industry 5, 10, and 15 years down the road?
Druid is currently licensed by 12 scientific researchers, one of them corporate and 11 of them academic, for their own studies of cognitive impairment. We hope to become the standard for detecting and measuring impairment in the scientific community.
We hope that impairment testing in general – and Druid in particular – will become widely adopted around the world as a means for protecting workers, co-workers, and bystanders from harm and injury, thus making workplaces safer and more efficiently operated. It can also have tremendous implications for the safety of fleet drivers and all those who share the road.
View the Together for Safer Roads June Newsletter.