TrueLoo | Image source: Toi Labs

Withings may be looking to make your toilet smart

You knew it was coming. Yup, high-tech toilets might just become the next big thing in health and fitness technology and Withings wants to be a part of this. At least according to their recent patent filing for a urine analysis gizmo.

Wearables have been growing from year to year and this is unlikely to change anytime soon. In fact, we are still in the beginning stages. Currently most of these live on our wrists. When 5G comes into widespread use they will always be connected untethering them from smartphones and allowing them to live on the cloud. First we’ll have 5G fitness trackers and smartwatches, then 5G smart clothes. But there might be a better way of tracking health.


Home urine testing platforms

We wrote a couple of years ago about Inui Health, formerly known as Scanadu. The outfit announced at the time that it is working on the first clinical grade home urine analysis platform. Such tests were previously available only at a lab or medical facility. 

Essential readingTop fitness trackers and health gadgets

The idea was to fill a single-use cup with urine up to the required level. The next step would consist of dipping the measuring paddle into the liquid and scanning the readings with the smartphone app. This would then let you know if there’s anything to be worried about. We’re not sure what happened this venture. If you log into the Inui Health website now, there is nothing to see.

An outfit which has had more luck is UK-based Test-Card. They announced their kit at CES 2019. Their idea was to sell urine testing strips for pregnancy, urinary tract infection and glucose levels. As far as we can tell you can only currently purchase tests for urinary tract infection. They sell for £12 a pop. Similar to the Inui Health solution, results are obtained by holding a mobile device above the TestCard. 

It would be nice if all this could be done for you automatically. Let’s face it, no-one really likes to mess around with stomach-wrenching urine or poop. French-based Withings might be looking in this direction.


Withings urine analysis patent

Withings has filed a patent earlier this year that goes under a catchy name – “Microfluidic device to deliver a controlled amount of liquid to an analysis tool for analysis”. This has been added to the USPTO database (under the number 17121101) as well as the European Patent Office (number EP3834940). You can view the European paperwork in full on the EPA website

The company has been at the forefront of wearable tech innovation for over a decade now. So it is not really surprising that once again they are looking in a direction where other wearable brands may not be.

The patent describes a “microfluidic device” (101 in picture below), that delivers a pre-set amount of liquid (102) to a urine analysis tool (103). Advances in the field of microfluidics can make this a very precise process. It could essentially be constrained to a very tiny scale – we’re talking about sub-millimeter.

Withings Urine test
Image source: EPA

According to the patent, the microfluidic device might comprise its own electrical power supply. Most likely this would be an off-the-shelf battery.

The filing goes on to describe that the gizmo would perform chemical analysis of a biomolecular material with the analysis tool and wirelessly send this to a smartphone or a tablet or remote server. Analysis could made during injection of liquid onto the analysis tool, so before the process of injection ends. There is also mention of a test strip, so presumably this would be something that would need to be changed from time to time.

What you essentially get is a smart toilet. When you think of health and fitness gadgets this is not really something that springs to mind. Unless you live in Japan, that is.


The Japanese have been at it for a while

Are smart toilets the next big thing in health & fitness tech?
Image source: TOTO

The country has been using and selling smart toilets for a while now. In fact, you’ll never encounter a more pleasant restroom than in Japan.

Their toilets do everything from automatically lifting and lowering the lid, to heating, and playing music to cover “certain noises”. Most of this is focused on hygiene and comfort. The pictograms on these things have even been officially standardized to prevent foreign visitors from pressing the wrong button. Some smart toilets, such as the TOTO Neorest NX, sell for up to $6,000!

Such devices are yet to gain ground in the West, though. In fact, the toilets used in the US and Europe have not really been improved upon in decades. But upgrading your loo might just become the next popular health tracking fad.

Stool and urine samples are often used by doctors to monitor for certain conditions. This includes infection, poor nutrient absorption and even certain types of cancer. A smart toilet that analyses human waste would be like going to a doctor’s checkup every day. We all use them so there’s a potential market of several billion!

The challenge is making smart toilets useful, reliable and inexpensive enough for widespread use. A product breaking new ground is unlikely to gain acceptance otherwise.

Are smart toilets the next big thing in health & fitness tech?
TrueLoo | Image source: Toi Labs

Outfits such as Toi Labs believe smart toilets will revolutionize personal healthcare in the years to come. Their flagship product is called TrueLoo, an internet-connected toilet seat that is installable on pretty much any toilet in minutes. The thing is currently used for monitoring conditions such as urinary and digestive disorders and dehydration by taking optical scans of waste.

In time, it could also be adapted to check on heart rate and blood pressure. The product is currently being tested at senior-living facilities in California, but the hope is it will be available to the general public soon.

Fitness trackers and smartwatches are useful for keeping tabs on health, but they can only go so far. Imagine smart toilets that will analyze urine and stool in real time every day. You’ll be able to catch signs of disease early on. In the near future, laboratory-grade equipment in your porcelain throne will make sure you don’t flush away valuable data!

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