Smart Toilets: Doctors in Your Bathroom

To those unfamiliar with Japanese culture, certain trends may seem unusual: manga and anime, the love affair with robotics, tea ceremonies…computerized talking toilets. Yeah, Americans don’t often run into those. So get the jokes out of the way (we all get one, just one), shrug off the discomfort, and let’s sit down and talk toilet. Toto’s newest smart john, the Intelligence Toilet II, is proving that it is more than an ordinary porcelain throne by recording and analyzing important data like weight, BMI, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.

There’s a “sample catcher” in the bowl that can obtain urine samples. Even by Japanese standards that’s impressive. Yes it has the bidet, the air dryer, and heated seat, but it’s also recording pertinent information.

This information is beamed to your computer via WiFi and can help you, with the guidance of a trained physician, monitor health and provide early detection for some medical conditions. Graphs on your desktop PC will show how your glucose levels have been fluctuating, along with urine temperatures. These trends can help diabetics time insulin shots as well as give insight into hormone levels for women concerned with their menstrual cycles. Trying to have a baby? Not sure when your most likely to conceive? Ask your toilet for help.

More than a pipe dream

If you’re not intrigued by the very idea of health analysis coinciding with bathroom time, I should point out the larger trend here: continuous body monitoring. Singularity Hub has been keeping tabs on vital signs tracked in real time, and Toto’s newest toilet is another example of the genre. More importantly, nanotech enthusiasts, (and most scientists in general) have been anxiously awaiting the lab-on-a-chip phenomenon: a way to analyze many different samples and perform many different experiments using a small portable device (the “chip”).

Intelligence Toilets are, perhaps surprisingly, one of the precursors to the common use of this greater technology. In spirit, if not in technology, the Intelligence Toilet II embodies many of the necessary designs of an eventual use of lab-on-a-chip. These toilets provide passive, regular, and wide-ranging analysis for consumers’ health.

Look ahead five or ten years when many crucial medical tests will be able to be performed by automated systems utilizing lab-on-a-chip technology. It will likely be inconvenient or too costly to have every surface in your home rigged to monitor your health. Implants may certainly be used but where would you put an external sensor to compliment the functions of the internal one? Why not use the place that everyone visits at least once a day anyway? Toilets are the ideal place to perform a daily checkup of your body’s fluids.

Now, it may seem like I’m inflating the issue, but I’m not just blowing air up your butt. (Ok, I said we get one, just one). Urinalysis has been an important medical tool for centuries and still is today. The Intelligence Toilet II may only perform rudimentary monitoring now, but give it time.

As lab technology grows, Toto will keep up. These are the guys who first brought Japan the porcelain toilet back in 1917. By their centennial anniversary they may by producing Toilets with MDs. At $6100 a pop (with complete installation) I’m not sure I can recommend you go out and buy one of these bad boys, but the first Intelligence Toilet (mark I) has already sold more than 10,000 units worldwide. Technophilic or just concerned about their health, some people are starting to think it’s a good idea to flush a little money down the toilet.

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