When Your Toilet Knows Everything About You

In a great effort to keep our medical data from literally going right down the toilet, researchers at Stanford University, California, just… made a new toilet.

Although medical wearables are all the rage, the researchers instead focused on something of a… sittable? The study, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, tests a new “smart toilet” that analyzes what comes out of us to detect medical conditions related to digestion, kidney function, and even some cancers.

The new system is mounted on top of a regular toilet, with sensors placed inside the bowl. The sensors analyze pee (urine) and calculate the rate of flow and volume. They also rank stool (poops) according to the Bristol stool scale, from rock-hard (1) to liquid diarrhea (8). Other sensors track how often a person “goes” and how long it takes each time. And the data are collected continuously, to track a person’s condition over time.

The study authors contend that all data collected go to a secure, cloud-based system. Calling TikTok, anyone? While data collection is undoubtedly useful, it has not proven to be private even among the so-called giants of industry, like Google and Apple. What’s the chance the data will stay secure in a lesser system?

The toilet can track more than one person at a time by use of a fingerprint scanner on the flush lever. Just in case someone else flushes away what you’ve produced, the toilet also scans your anus.

Said lead researcher Dr. Sam Gambhir:

“We know it seems weird, but as it turns out, your anal print is unique.”

Most of us would like to keep that information away from our closest friends and family members and even our doctors, not have it out there on the cloud. Forget that: some of us don’t even want to know that information about ourselves.

The researchers plan to test the toilet with more people and add biochemical analyses of poop “samples.”

The idea of a “tester toilet” isn’t new. The German (and Dutch) “lay and display toilet” has been around a long time. It has a ledge in the bowl so that users can examine their own poop before flushing. This toilet type does required extra scrubbing, for obvious reasons, and men can’t use it easily when standing to pee. (Well, they could, but whomever cleans the bathroom would be mad.) The advantage is that if something in the poop looks amiss, the pooper can call the doctor right away. The method isn’t high-tech, but it’s more private.

Back in 2009, Japanese company Imax also came up with a high-tech toilet. It, too, was a terminal attached to the toilet that analyzed poop and sent the information to the user’s cell phone. The analysis included fecal bacteria count, presence of blood in the stool and stool fat content. In the early 2000s, Japanese toilet manufacturer Toto built a smart toilet to analyze sugar levels in urine, check blood pressure and body weight and measure body temperature and hormone balance. It was discontinued, ostensibly due to low demand.

But now it’s 2020; less people seem to be concerned about their personal privacy and more are interested in ways to track their health. The smart toilet may finally have its day. Last year, a group from University of Wisconsin published a study to see whether examining urine could provide useful information about health. Based on their results, they also plan to develop a smart toilet.

Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice. Do not take action based solely on this article and always consult with an appropriate healthcare professional. This article is purely for informational purposes.

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