How does a toilet sound to you that, based on what you poop and pee, automatically gives you tips on how to eat healthier or detects early warning of an illness?
Amazing? Creepy? Maybe a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B?
Well, it’s coming, folks. It’s just not clear when.
One fancy toilet manufacturer just threw its hat into the ring to produce the smart toilet of the future: Toto. At CES Monday, the Japan-based toilet, bidet, and cleanliness products maker unveiled a new concept for its “Wellness Toilet.”
Using “multiple cutting-edge sensing technologies,” each time a person sat on the toilet, it would track and analyze a person’s “mental and physical status,” according to a press release. Then it would send that data to an app to provide users with recommendations. The example Toto gives is that when it detects an “unbalanced diet,” it suggests other foods to eat. Like salmon.
If this sounds light on details to you, you’re correct.
“This is a concept announcement,” Ryoji Nakamura, Toto’s head of digital innovation, said. “We cannot disclose everything. But what I can explain is that in this wellness toilet concept, we are going to utilize multiple sensing technologies to detect health-related information. For example, stress and fitness level, and body conditions. We are going to collect multiple health data from sensing technologies.”
In conversation with Mashable, Nakamura also shared that the idea has been in development since 2017. So there is real research and development that’s gone into the idea; there just isn’t a strict timeline for release. Nakamura also said that some of the inputs it would collect would be scent and blood flow, but did not provide more details about how it would actually take those measurements. There also isn’t a set timeline for when this toilet concept is set to come to fruition.
That level of detail did not surprise others in the smart toilet space.
“The real challenge this whole area faces is how do we bring the technology that exists in academic research laboratories into the toilet environment in a way that’s going to be able to provide the same type of — or good enough — data at a price that people could afford,” Joshua Coon, a University of Wisconsin professor who has studied the collection of metabolic insights from human waste, said. “That’s where the real challenge is, and it’s not clear to me that Toto has figured out how to solve that either.”
Toto is not alone in its efforts. Multiple academic groups and companies are working on analyzing the ~raw data~ we create in the toilet.
One group at Stanford University made headlines last year when they debuted a technology that gleaned health insights from a person’s poop, with a camera that recognized an individual’s butthole. Last year, Coon published research that showed what he was able to learn about his health from monitoring his own (and his colleague’s) urine.
The probiotic and gastrointestinal health company Seed, along with researchers at AI company Auggie, is creating a crowdsourced poop database to advance understanding of feces analysis. And the startup Toi Labs is working on additional tech to analyze poop and provide data, which has involved the company creating its own poop database. Over the years, other companies have produced wildly expensive “smart toilets” that were neither that viable nor that smart (they mostly provided info on environmental stats, like how much water you’re using).
In addition to figuring out the cost of putting a mini-lab in a toilet, companies who want to provide viable products also have to undergo years of testing. That takes time and money.
“There’s a lot of evidence that needs to be presented for a new modality of analysis of the toilet to really be credible,” Vik Kashyap, the founder of Toi Labs, said. “To build the toilet of the future is not as easy as it might seem.”
That doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Coon said that giving advice on diet or exercise based on monitoring human waste “is not science fiction.” The challenge is just fitting all the tools to do that into a toilet.