An Intelligent Toilet
The Ubiquitous Urine Sample
April 30, 2011
Anyone who has had a physical exam or even a regular visit to their doctor should be familiar with the routine of being handed a small plastic cup and told to go to the bathroom to produce a urine sample.
And it is not just visits to a physician, as tests of urine samples can also be used to detect the presence of drugs in one’s system.
In addition to the emergence and growth of the medical testing industry which analyses urine for medical clues, a whole industry devoted to testing urine for evidence of various forbidden substances has also developed in recent years in response to the demands of employers, law enforcement, schools, etc. to enforce rules of conduct.
Now, thanks to new technology, the days of having to pee into a plastic cup are about to come to an end.
An End to Having to Pee into a Plastic Cup
Two Japanese companies, the home builder Daiwa Houseand the plumbing fixture producer Toto, have combined to create and market a toilet that doubles as laboratory tool to analyze a person’s urine when they urinate in the toilet.
Interestingly, while this toilet holds great promise for medical labs, doctor’s offices and hospitals, the toilet was developed for and is being marketed and sold primarily to individuals for their homes.
The idea for this hi-tech toilet started in December 2002 when the President (now Chariman) of Daiwa House, Takeo Higuchi, met with the President (now Chairman), Masatoshi Shigefuchi, of Toto Ltd. to discuss the idea of building a toilet that would allow people to easily analyze their urine in the privacy of their homes.
Daiwa House’s President not only had a keen personal interest in good health but, as an astute observer of the market, was aware of the growing interest in people in Japan and elsewhere in both leading healthier lives as well as their desire to take greater personal responsibility for managing their health.
Of course, as the head of a home building company, he knew that this toilet was not only something that people would be willing to pay for but would also be an attractive selling point for the homes Daiwa House was building.
Similarly, as the head of a global producer of toilets, Toto’s President Shigefuchi, also saw great potential in the idea.
Disposal of Human Waste Has Been a Concern Since Prehistoric Times
Urine, in humans and animals, is one of the outputs of the body’s internal waste disposal system.
As a product of the body’s waste disposal system, urine not only has a bad odor but also a carrier and breeding ground for germs.
Since the beginning of time the focus of humans has been on improving ways to safely deal with the body’s daily disposal of its wastes.
For the small bands of humans in prehistoric times it was relatively simple - just have members of the band relieve themselves anywhere away from the area around the campfire.
Being nomads, they never stayed anywhere long enough for the wastes to accumulate to problem proportions.
As groups became larger and more settled, more sophisticated means were needed.
This need gave rise to outhouses and latrines which generally solved the problem in rural areas.
However, human waste disposal became more problematic in urban areas, where concentration of waste and its threat to the underground water supply.
This problem became especially acute during the explosive growth of urban areas that came about with the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution.
Thomas Crapper Invents the Modern Toilet
It wasn’t until 1871 when the English Engineer, Thomas Crapper, came up with the first modern flush toilet the basic design of which is still in use today.
While there was obviously a need for improvements in indoor bathroom sanitation, the driving force behind Crapper’s toilet was Queen Victoria’s resolve to find a better indoor plumbing system following the death of her husband, Prince Albert.
Prince Albert had died from typhoid fever, the bacteria of which had developed in the plumbing system of the royal palace.
In addition to the boost in his company’s sales from his new product, Thomas Crapper was rewarded by the Queen by being referred to as the Royal Plumber of England.
Urine Also a Source of Medical Data
Humans early on learned to associate urine and other bodily waste with disease and the emergence of science confirmed this suspicion.
However, in modern times science began to discover that, in addition to germs, urine was also valuable source of information about the body.
In fact urine can act as an early warning system about the existence or potential existence of a number of problems in the body long before physical symptoms appear.
WikiPedia contains a table listing twenty different things that can be uncovered by an analysis of a sample of a person’s urine.
Early Pregnancy Test - "The Rabbit Died"
As early as the late 1920s scientists discovered that they could determine, before other signs appeared, whether a woman was pregnant by injecting some of her urine into a female rabbit (mice and frogs were sometimes also used) and then inspecting the rabbit’s ovaries a few days later.
When a woman becomes pregnant her body produces a hormone human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG which is found in the woman’s blood and urine.
The hCG causes a change in the appearance of the rabbit’s ovaries.
Of course the easiest way to examine the rabbit’s ovaries was to kill it and cut it open.
While the rabbit, in almost all cases, was killed in order to examine its ovaries. a popular myth arose that it was something in the urine of the pregnant woman that killed the rabbit.
This myth eventually gave rise to the expression the rabbit died becoming a shorthand expression for a woman or others to use to say she was pregnant.
Urinalysis is a Safe and Non-Invasive Means of Seeing What is Going On Inside the Body
Since then medical science has discovered more things in urine that reveal what is going on in the body.
Just as the presence of the hGC in a woman’s urine indicates that she is pregnant, the presence, absence or even changes in quantity of other hormones, proteins, etc. can be early indicators of the start of various diseases or medical conditions.
In addition to early detection, a big advantage of urinalysis is that it is non-invasive.
Instead of cutting open a person’s body, inserting instruments into the body or exposing it to potentially harmful radiation, urinalysis provides insight into what is going on inside the body without touching the body.
Market is Currently Small Due to High Price
While hospitals and other medical facilities are showing interest in these toilets, the marketing focus so far has been to include them as an option in new homes, especially in the companies’ home market of Japan.
Given the toilet’s Japanese ¥350,000 (U.S. $ 3,500) to ¥610,000 (U.S. $6,100) price tag, these are obviously not for everyone especially when prices for low end models of traditional toilets start at U.S. $100 or less (of course, expensive designer models can carry prices up to and above the cost of the Intelligent Toilets).
As expected, at these prices, the toilets are not a hot seller. However, between the introduction of the Intelligent Toilet since April 2005 and December 2008 (the last year I could find sales data) Diawa House reported they had sold 10,000 Intelligent Toilets for homes (Toto Ltd. produces the toilets but Diawa House sells them mostly through the inclusion of the toilet in the new homes they produce).
Potential Market is Large
While the current target market is the Japanese new home market, these Intelligent toilets have great potential for hospitals, medical laboratories and other medical facilities.
Despite their cost, which could begin to fall as demand for them increases and competitors emerge, there is reason to expect interest among individuals to increase. Obviously, upscale, affluent individuals who are concerned about their health are a prime target and this group probably accounts for most of the sales to date.
In addition, older individuals many of whom tend to be more affluent and more concerned about health as they age, as well as people with chronic health problems are also a potential market.
As mentioned above, evidence of many diseases and medical conditions first appears in a person’s urine.
More importantly, this evidence often takes the form of changes in the amount or frequency of certain substances commonly found in one’s urine.
Daily testing and recording of changes in the composition of one’s urine is a good way to identify the start of many health risks.
It is also costly and impractical to visit a medical facility for a urine test each day.
However, analyzing the urine during normal urination and transferring this to the accompanying Kenko Kanri Kun health management software on an individuals personal computer is an easy and efficient way for the person to monitor their health and contact their physician when the software detects irregularities in the analysis.
The number of diseases and medical conditions that can now be identified, treated and often cured has increased exponentially in the past century or so.
This has led to a huge growth in the health care industry, an industry whose supply of providers once consisted of a few doctors and nurses in the profession with a few hospitals for the seriously ill but which now has a large range of other professionals assisting a growing number of doctors and nurses.
Intelligent Toilet is One More Tool for Individuals to Help Manage their Health
Along with the increase in supply in providers has been an increasing role for individuals in taking care of and monitoring their own health.
Today one can visit a local pharmacy and purchase medical equipment to check their temperature, blood pressure, their glucose, etc.
Viewed in this context, the Intelligent Toilet is simply one more tool available to individuals to use, in their ongoing partnership with their physician, to maintain a healthy life.