The wave of artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT expanding around the world is also advancing in the bathroom, considered the "ultimate private room." The bathroom, which is used daily in the home, is effective for the fixed-point observation of human behavior data and living conditions. A movement is underway to utilize the toilet in health management by combining the use of IoT and sensor technology. In addition, bidet toilets are spreading around the world against a backdrop of increasing awareness of hygiene and cleanliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. This situation may also boost the use of IoT in toilets.
Some toilet manufacturing companies in Japan have commercialized IoT toilets equipped with Wi-Fi modules. Currently, these have been linked with smartphones to realize functions such as recording the usage history of small/large flushes and to notify the user of the maintenance period of the nozzle in bidet toilets from the actual usage situation.
Understanding Physical Health Condition with Toilets by Applying Sensor Technology
However, the benefits of using IoT in toilets are not widely understood. Companies are accelerating the pace of the development of IoT toilets in cooperation with startups and others to address this situation.
For example, it has become possible to install various sensors on the toilet seat, which is a touch point with the body and to detect the excretion situation with sensors in the toilet. Combined, it is possible to acquire information on the body by making full use of various sensor technologies. This information can then be managed on smartphones and PCs. The aim is to recommend food rich in nutrients that should be ingested and to give health advice. There are also companies looking to provide subscription-based health management services through co-creation with external partners. The bathroom tends to be used at similar times (e.g., after waking up and before going to bed). This makes it an ideal place to determine differences and changes in a user's physical condition.
Interest has grown in bidet toilets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, it is expected that new bathrooms will be built, and old bathrooms will be replaced, and that this will also lead to the introduction of IoT toilets. It seems that the bathroom environment will be developed for the introduction of IoT, even if it does not happen right away.
Visualization of Vacant Restrooms, Optimization of Cleaning and Other Benefits of Using IoT in Restrooms
Japan leads the world when it comes to the adoption rate of bidet toilets. According to a survey on consumption trends by the Cabinet Office, the penetration rate in households of two or more people reached 80.3% in March 2021. Moreover, the number of bidet toilets per household is at least one. On the other hand, the spread of bidet toilets in Europe, North America, Asia, and elsewhere is something that will happen from the present time. For instance, baths and toilets are often installed in the same room in Europe. Accordingly, unlike in Japan where they tend to be separate, the arrangement of outlets will change. It is difficult to install outlets in a low position due to the risk of electric shock from water and electric leakage. IoT toilets also require a power supply in addition to bidet toilets. In that sense, it is conceivable that there is a high possibility that IoT toilets will spread in Japan ahead of the rest of the world.
As mentioned above, the greatest benefit of IoT toilets is being able to understand the user’s health condition. Development is underway on systems such as stool image analysis and urine component analysis. Among other additional benefits, a service is being developed to visualize the vacancy situation of restrooms by making full use of sensors to alleviate congestion in toilets in public facilities. Similarly, sensors may be used to detect the frequency of use and a decrease in cleaning agent. Furthermore, analyzing data on the degree of dirtiness may optimize cleaning. Another benefit is the detection of water leakages, blockages, or other failures for early repair.
The day may come when IoT restrooms are the standard in public facilities and homes.