Withings is making a splash at CES 2023 in Las Vegas with the world’s first connected home urine analyser. U-Scan works with an accompanying smartphone app and is meant to be attached to the rim of a conventional toilet bowl.
Home urine testing platforms
You knew it was coming. Yup, high-tech toilets might just become the next big thing in health and fitness technology and Withings looks to be the first big brand to be a part in this.
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 smart clothes. But there might be a better way of tracking health.
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 reading: Top 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.
But wouldn’t it 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.
Step in French-based Withings.
We covered over the past year a couple of their patents for a Withings “Urine Analyzer”. Now the device is official.
U-Scan is designed to measure physiological compounds or chemical components and send the results wirelessly to the Withings Health Analyzer app. The idea is to provide a readily available at home, simple to use urine analyzer device.
The sensor consists of a reader and a replaceable cartridge. Both are attached to your toilet from where they unlock the wealth of health information in daily urine. Think of it as a mini health lab. Withings says the device has been four years in the making and resulted in 13 patent application families.
The reader can differentiate between urine and normal toilet water. The same device can also distinguish between different people via low-energy radars (something Withings called its Stream ID feature). So it will only track with one specific person per reader.
A user will need to pee normally, but on top of the reader. Results will be collected and the chemical reaction will be analysed by the optical module and sent to the smartphone app. From where you can follow trends and read insights. The results will also be shareable through the app with doctors and others. Worthy of note is that the system is automatically cleaned with every flush.
Different types of cartrages
There are a couple of different types of cartridges that can be used with U-Scan. Each one contains dozens of miniaturised test pods. These rotate after each reading to the next pod. On average a cartridge should last about three months.
This is a module design and Withings plans to add new biomarkers in the future. The current cartridge choice for consumers includes the Scan Cycle and Nutri Balance cartridges.
The first collects data on luteinising hormone (LH), pH levels and hydration levels. LH is used as an estimate on a person’s ovulation window. pH levels are an indicator how acidic your diet is, i.e. the balance between vegetables and protein. For example, high acidic values indicate you are not eating enough veggies. And hydration levels are pretty self-explanatory.
Nutri Balance does not give LH readings, but it also gives out pH and hydration readings. In addition to ketones and vitamin C. Ketones are an indicator of your metabolic health and we all know about the importance of ingesting foods with vitamin C.
U-Scan is still awaiting FDA clearance for the US. In Europe it will be available from Q2 2023 for 499.95 Euros. This includes one U-Scan reader and one cartridge. No word yet on how much the automatic refills or standalone cartridge will cost.
The Japanese have been at it for a while
When you think of health and fitness gadgets urine analysis is not really something that springs to mind. Unless you live in Japan, that is.
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.
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!
Our take on Withings U-Scan
At first glance, Withings U-Scan might not seem very exciting. However, it is gadgets like this that represent the future of health tracking. Something that fits seamlessly into your routine which can have hundreds of markers monitored daily.
While there is no shortage of companies producing smartwatches, fitness trackers, smart scales and other health devices, Withings is making a name for itself with a clear vision for personalised and adaptable medicine that is to come. This will usher in a time where you don’t need to go to the doctor for routine analysis to pick up on a health issue.
For a young, healthy person, U-Scan is probably not necessary. But after a certain age it starts becoming a useful product. Particularly if you have underlying illnesses or would like more comprehensive health tracking.
Withings 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.
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