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South Florida Business Journal                         July 28, 2005

A license to license

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Report leads to high-tech test strategy

Low-profile ESRA Consulting has an eclectic collection of specialties for a Boca Raton-based engineering firm: transportation, nuclear waste disposal, plus storage and transportation of explosives.

"They are unusual specialties, but there are many interconnections between both the sciences and best practices in those areas," said Sandy H. Straus, ESRA's president and senior engineer.

She has recently added another specialty to the firm: license-testing systems. It came about almost by accident, yet it's one, she thinks, could make the seven-employee firm big bucks in the future.

The idea grew like an unexpected chain reaction.

The firm's reputation as a transportation specialist got it on the contract bid list for the Arizona Department of Transportation.

ESRA - the name was changed a year ago from Environment, Safety and Risk Associates Corp. - sought and was awarded a $100,000 competitive contract to survey and identify existing machines to test applicants' vision prior to issuing drivers' licenses. Part of the survey cost was picked up by a grant from the Federal Highway Administration.

The more Straus' consultants investigated, the more she saw that the study had implications far wider than just auto licenses.

"The same problems crop up for licensing in the aviation, rail and maritime industries," she said. "Their methods for testing haven't changed in five decades."

What should have been a 50-page report mushroomed over time into a 440-page treatise covering all facets of license testing.

"We donated more than 10,000 hours of our time in order to deliver a breakthrough report," Straus said.

Transport industry officials who were surveyed generally agreed that current licensing procedures remain inadequate, reconfirming a 1994 study by McCloskey et al.

And Straus had a personal interest in helping design a better licensing system: Her grandfather was killed while walking by an errant driver.

"What we came to envision was a whole new automated system of license testing, utilizing state-of-the-art visual acuity testing machines - but also developing software and hardware testing for peripheral vision, glaucoma, macular degeneration, dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, things for which no current testing is done," she said.

The report is a how-to guide to bring license testing facilities into the 21st century - and Straus plans to get a piece of the action.

Her carefully hewn strategy is to act as a consultant for DOTs that want to implement the new testing strategies. And, at the same time, her firm has secured exclusive marketing rights for a number of the high-tech machine and software system solutions that she feels must ultimately become a part of modern license testing.

The only slight flaw in the chain reaction is the relatively small size of her firm. She lacks a sophisticated marketing arm with the political connections to quickly introduce the new system nationwide.

She is not adverse to a joint venture if the fit is right, and expects at the end of this chain reaction there will be an explosion of profit.

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