Smart toilet innovators believe the loo could become the ultimate health monitoring tool.
The smart toilet era is here! Are you ready to share your analprint with big tech?Loo design has barely changed in 150 years – until now. Will people trade their privacy for the chance to find out exactly what is in their waste?
23 September 2021, 7:00 am·12-min readFor the past 10 years, Sonia Grego has been thinking about toilets – and more specifically what we deposit into them. “We are laser-focused on the analysis of stool,” says the Duke University research professor, with all the unselfconsciousness of someone used to talking about bodily functions. “We think there is an incredible untapped opportunity for health data. And this information is not tapped because of the universal aversion to having anything to do with your stool.”
As the co-founder of Coprata, Grego isworking on a toiletthat uses sensors and artificial intelligence to analyse waste; she hopes to have an early model for a pilot study ready within nine months. “The toilet that you have in your home has not functionally changed in its design since it was first introduced,” she says, in the second half of the 19th century. There are, of course, now loos with genital-washing capabilities, or heated seats, but this is basic compared with what Grego is envisaging. “All other aspects of your life – your electricity, your communication, even your doorbell – have enhanced capabilities.”
The smart toilet’s time has come and it is a potentially huge market – in the developed world, everyone who is able to uses a toilet multiple times a day. Grego adds that she can “certainly envision a world” in which a toilet that does more than flush excreta “is available to every household”. There are numerous companies working on bringing that to market – a race to the bottom, if you will. headtopics.com
Smart toilet innovators believe the loo could become the ultimate health monitoring tool. Grego believes her product – which analyses and tracks stool samples and sends the data to an app – will provide “information related to cancer and many chronic diseases”. For general consumers, it will provide peace of mind, she says, by establishing “a healthy baseline”: “Having technology that tracks what is normal for an individual could provide an early warning that a checkup is needed.” For people with specific conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, the device could provide helpful monitoring for doctors. “It’s very difficult to know when to escalate or de-escalate treatment,” she says. “Stool-based biomarkers can provide that information.”
Story continuesAt some point, she thinks, a smart toilet could make lifestyle suggestions – it could tell you to eat more fibre or certain nutrients, for instance, or work out what kind of food triggered an uncomfortable gastric episode. “The science of nutrition is really moving in the direction of personalised nutrition,” says Grego. “Our technology will be an enabler of this, because you have information of what you eat, but we can make seamless the obtaining of information of what comes out.”
***The toilet technology being developed by Joshua Coon’s academic lab is focused on urine, because it is easier to sample and analyse. He describes himself as “a smart toilet enthusiast”, rather than someone who is racing to get a product to market, although he says he is in talks with industry leaders. “There are several thousand known different small molecules that exist in urine and they give you insight into what’s going on,” says Coon, who is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Ina small study he conducted, two people – one of whom was Coon – saved every urine sample for 10 days. “It turns out that you can detect compounds that are diagnostic of exercise [show you have done some]; you can see when an over-the-counter medication comes into the system and clears out; you can see molecules that correlate with how well you slept, how much fat you had in your diet, what your calorie intake was.” headtopics.com
The study wasn’t set up to look at long-term health, he says, but the implications are there. “Combining that with health records and lifestyle data, a lot of these molecules almost certainly could correlate with important disease risk and be able to much better predict a person’s need for intervention. That’s the vision, if one had the technical capability to make these measurements in a toilet.”
Numi, an ‘intelligent toilet’ designed by the US brand Kohler, at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2020. Read more: Yahoo Singapore »
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