The humble toilet is entering the modern age, becoming ‘smart’ and potentially having the ability to detect illness and play a role in early diagnosis. So what exactly is in the pipeline for WCs? PAUL ANGUS dives in head first to flush out all the possibilities.
Where technology is concerned, the simplest ideas are often the best. When that Eureka moment arrives… it can often happen when you least expect it, but does the actual location have anything to do with it? While buildings are becoming significantly smarter, the design of the reliable bath, basin, shower and WC (albeit far more water-efficient), has effectively remained timeless for a significant period. When we consider technology within plumbing, are we overlooking the key ingredients that could effectively improve and maintain our health and well-being?
FLASH IN THE PAN
Some of the best thoughts occur in the bathroom. Whether it’s while you’re singing in the shower, relaxing in the bath or sitting on the loo, we’ve all experienced that moment where a flash of inspiration strikes. History suggests this is no new phenomenon; Archimedes is famed for exclaiming ‘Eureka’ while sitting in the bath!
Studies suggest that 40 percent of people come up with their best thoughts while spending time in the bathroom. It’s not surprising really, as the average person spends just over 20 minutes in the bathroom each day, or – to put this in context – 450 days across the average lifetime. While you’re reading this, consider that only 12 percent taking part in the study do their best thinking at work. So there you have it, the key to increasing work-based performance is all down to how awesome your toilets are!
THE INTERNET OF TOILETS
Buildings are becoming smarter, interconnecting with our smartphone apps. For example, allowing hotel guests to remotely communicate with their room heating or cooling, lighting and opening and closing blinds, even room security can occur via cloud-based technology. This undoubtedly assists in sustainable energy usage. Sensors following movement patterns control lighting; however, if we use the same sensors to become more intelligent to follow similar patterns to control water usage, this can also assist in heating the necessary amount of water required. What if we could turn on the shower to reach the desired temperature before even leaving the hotel bed? A mobile phone notification can alerts users when the shower has reached their preferred temperature. They even have the ability to set a time limit on the showering period to save water, too. The possibilities are endless.
Facility managers rely on IoT to communicate with the building’s services plant to monitor performance and efficiency through the building management system (BMS). This allows data comparison to the existing information stored in the cloud to highlight any issues, identify when a plant may not be operating and allow proactive replacement of the plant.
Japan is at the heart of endless technological possibilities, especially when it comes to innovation in the bathroom. It’s not just another trip to the loo when you consider highly sophisticated toilets can provide users with the luxury of a vast variety of functions, including heated seats, warm water jets and flushing at the touch of a button (or, in some cases, with a simple wave of the hand from the throne).
AIMING HIGHER (RATHER) THAN THE TOILET SEAT
So where is innovation and advancement in toilet technology leading? NASA relies upon and harnesses the ability of the humble toilet to monitor astronauts by sampling waste and report on their health and well-being. Although this sounds a bit gross, how beneficial could this be in the toilets back here on earth? Sensors are everywhere these days and part of our daily lives, but what if we take one giant leap for mankind that bit further by embedding various sensors into the toilet to measure vital signs and health and well-being parameters? Visualise a toilet equipped with various sensors and microprocessors, logging urine information – and notifying the user or their doctor if something going down the drain differs from the usual. You would not need to provide urine samples at the hospital or doctor; your smart toilet would take care of that. The future of the humble WC is starting to become far more appealing, don’t you think?
The smart toilet of the future won’t be a stand-alone device, but part of an integrated network of information about you and billions of other people, in a system of devices, servers, institutions and individuals, that actively prioritises diagnosis, communication and prevention. Instead of flushing millions of terabytes, potentially gigabytes, of useful data into the sewers each day, we’ll extract the essential information to provide a far healthier future.
The possibilities are endless, as the WC will also be able to send data to smartphones, converting data that can provide suggestions on how to change lifestyle routines. Taking it further, the technology will be able to alert medical professionals in case of emergency or notify doctors if patients are not improving even though they are adhering to the prescribed treatments.
ONE, POO, PEE!
The essential tools and technologies required for these changes already exist today. Embedded sensors located within the WC can easily be connected to the building’s Wi-Fi network to transmit results, which could also relay certain data direct to local doctors. How essential could this technology be? Let’s dive in.
The toilet of the future will monitor your blood sugars and cholesterol, helping you to manage your health, to understand how your body is reacting and to decide when to take action. Most of us don’t recognise when our body is telling us that there is an issue. Are you spending more time on the toilet than usual? What if you had instant access to the most up-to-date software that analyses your faeces and instantly reports to you, via an app, that you have a bacterial infection or even a virus? The app can advise the appropriate treatment or if you should contact your doctor to seek further assistance…
But hang on – being an app, it already has the ability to alert your doctor. In fact, it has already notified your doctor, checked your calendar against the doctors and booked an appointment for you.
How many pregnancies go undetected? What if the humble toilet could detect any hormone changes early and advise you if you’re pregnant? No more messing around taking aim and this would also remove the agonising waiting game. Your app on your phone could even alert you and your partner.
Perhaps after a heavy night of partying, you’ve woken to find yourself hugging the ever-reliable porcelain throne? Of course, it must have been something you ate, right? Thankfully, the sensors embedded within your toilet have already detected the alcohol level in your system. The app on your phone has sent you a hangover cure recipe complete with a selection of fluids to restore your body to the state it requires. And you cunningly already set up the app so your doctor or employer isn’t notified of these events, of course!
A FLUSH FOR LIFE
Sensors in a toilet could more easily and effectively monitor and test for a whole host of ailments or circumstances that currently require manual, inconvenient methods or self- diagnostic kits.
So why are toilets not already offering this service? Cost plays a big part; however, misconceptions of self-diagnosing where something is not right with us can be a potential minefield. What if the simplest solution to all our futures was actually the humble WC holding the key to your overall health and well-being?
It may sound far fetched; however, the IoT – and our toilets – are advancing so fast that within a few years a global heath record data base will soon be available. So, the next time you’re experiencing that Eureka moment while spending some time in the bathroom, spare a thought for your toilet… you never know, it very well could save your life in the future. ●
Paul Angus is an associate director – Hydraulic Services and Education Sector Lead (NSW and ACT) at AECOM, based in Sydney. Angus has strong commercial and technical capabilities in developing and delivering hydraulic design strategies and solutions. He specialises in providing a sustainable approach to system design, including water conservation, recycling and generating innovative engineering solutions.
This article also appears in the December/January issue of FM magazine.
Image: 123RF’s Artem Ermilov © 123Rf.com