Last Updated on: 31st October 2021, 12:37 pm
For specific people under specific circumstances, these health analyzing smart toilets could be a huge help. But as a generally available consumer product? I’ll pass. It would be great to have an easy method to assist with the tracking and treatment of a chronic condition so that maybe you would have to tromp to the lab less often, but that’s about where the benefits end.
What use is there, for instance, in having your toilet tell you that you eat and party like a college boy? If you are at all self-aware, you know that. Ditto for suggestions that you maybe aren’t moving around enough. You know whether or not you went for a run today. This sort of lifestyle prompting from a bowl in the wall doesn’t accomplish much beyond contributing to people’s weird health anxiety. Nobody you knew ever mentioned 10000 steps until they all got fitness trackers. Now half of them figuratively live and die by that stuff, getting all twitchy when it starts looking like they might not hit the arbitrary goal of the day or staying awake at night fretting about the disturbing results they’ve been seeing on the sleep monitor.
And what is it going to mean for medical care? Everybody’s already Googling everything and then either bothering the doctor about it or sending themselves to the hospital by sucking down Javex and horse paste. Having the toilet track your family’s every movement is only going to give those people more ammo and make it harder for the rest of us to get the time and attention we need.
All of this and we haven’t even touched on the privacy implications. A lot of these internet of things devices aren’t exactly secure. But even if they were, it would solve virtually nothing. We still have a host of other issues here. Where are these reams of data going? Who has access to it? If your toilet company is sold, how does that change your relationship? Are these things going to start popping up in workplaces? Other public settings? Different people are going to have different privacy standards and different motivations. What are they tracking? Why do they want it? And if everyone’s deuce hoop is as unique as some of the people in this article here seem to think it is, what does that mean for me in terms of employment, life insurance, police investigations, all that?
Sometimes there’s a reason why the design and function of something hasn’t changed in a couple hundred years. Maybe it’s just not worth it.
Panasonic launched a smart toilet in China that tested urine and tracked body fat. This year, at the influential annual Consumer Electronics Show, the Japanese manufacturer Toto announced its “wellness toilet” – a concept, but something it is working on (it previously developed a toilet that analyses urine flow). Its sensors – including one for scent – would aim to detect health problems and conditions such as stress, but also make lifestyle suggestions. In one image provided by the company, it envisioned the toilet sending you a recipe for salmon and avocado salad.
Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine have been working on technology that can analyse faeces (including “stool dropping time”) and track the velocity and colour of urine, as well as test it. An article this month in the Wall Street Journal reported that the researchers have partnered with Izen, a Korean toilet manufacturer, and hope to have prototypes by the end of the year. In order to differentiate between users, the researchers developed a scanner that can recognise the physical characteristics of whoever is sitting on the toilet – or, in the words of the researchers, “the distinctive features of their anoderm” (the skin of the anal canal). Apparently, your “analprint”, like your fingerprints, is unique.
Vik Kashyap says we are ready for it (well, perhaps not scanners – in Stanford’s study of user acceptance, “the least favoured module is analprint”). Kashyap’s company, Toi Labs, has been working in the smart toilet space for about two decades and has a longstanding interest in gut health (he successfully treated his own ulcerative colitis by ingesting parasitic worms). He has seen other companies’ attempts at the smart toilet fail, but he thinks now may be the time. Not only has it become normal to track our data through wearables such as an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, but we are also less squeamish. Kashyap puts this down to the surge of interest and research in the microbiome and our gut health, including poo, which “has made this topic less of a taboo”.