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What's the point of technology in the toilet?

21 December 2017

As an increasing number of high-tech systems come on to the washroom market, Amelia Baker from Tork manufacturer Essity asks the question: How much technology do we actually need in our public toilets? 

Visiting the toilet is hardly rocket science. But like every other area of our lives, washrooms are becoming increasingly influenced by technology. Automatic taps, sensor-operated flush systems and no-touch dispensers have all become a familiar sight in public-use washrooms everywhere – sometimes catching us off guard as we wave our hands around helplessly in an effort to make them work. 

Japan leading the way

In Japan some toilets sense how the user approaches and lifts the seat for a man and lowers it for a woman. Other Japanese loos heat the seat before use and come with a remote control and a bidet function.

Still in Japan, some toilets are programmed to analyse the user’s urine and provide a health report based on the results. But how necessary are such functions? And do we even want this level of technology in our toilets?

According to a report in the Economist the market for Japanese-style loos is expanding overseas for the first time. The two key manufacturers of Japan’s high-tech toilets are Toto and Lixil and the publication claims that 26 per cent of Toto’s revenue and 30 per cent of Lixil’s revenues now comes from outside their home nation.

Some of us would consider the idea of remote-control washrooms that monitors our health to be surplus to requirements. And automatic toilet flush systems are not for everyone.

Many people take to social media to grumble about the way that some automatic systems flush the toilet seemingly randomly and potentially waste water since they are not equipped with water-saving dual-flush technology.

But these gripes apart, there is no doubt that technology in the toilet can potentially bring improvements in a number of areas such as health, hygiene, accessibility and efficiency.

For example, hands-free dispensers for soap and hand towels help to minimise the need for visitors to touch washroom surfaces and reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Back in Japan, new toilets installed at Tokyo’s Narita Airport in time for the 2020 Olympics incorporate a voice-guidance system to aid the visually-impaired as well as a light alert signal for the deaf in cases of emergency. Here technology is being put to good use by making the washrooms more accessible. And technology can also help to alleviate washroom bottlenecks and improve the customer experience. 

Queues, empty dispensers and out-of-service cubicles can all be addressed with the aid of facility management software such as Tork EasyCube.

Using sensors in dispensers and on doors, Tork EasyCube “connects” the washrooms of a given facility and provides data on cleaning needs and dispenser refill levels. This enables cleaning staff to monitor the washrooms via a tablet or smartphone and respond immediately when a problem occurs.

Handy apps

Technology is helping to improve washroom users’ experience in other ways, too. For example it can help them find a public toilet when they need one with the aid of systems such as the Flush app. This helps them to locate a clean, wheelchair-accessible washroom anywhere in the world.

The Toilet Finder app offers a similar service and provides information on more than 120,000 public toilets globally. And for a small fee the Rockaloo app gives shoppers and visitors in New York a queue-free entry into the toilets of restaurants, cafes, high-end stores and hair salons that are normally reserved for customers only.

Technology can have many useful functions in the washroom. It can help you to find a clean, accessible facility and then enhance the experience when you get there. It can improve hygiene by means of automatic systems and it can help to keep a washroom well stocked with soap, hand towels and toilet tissue. 

Whether or not we all eventually switch on to diagnostic toilets that are operated via remote control, there will always be room for technology in the toilet to make our public facilities safer, cleaner, easier to use and more hygienic.