How high-tech toilets could soon be tracking your every movement

Sarah Knapton
Smart devices can pick up the early signs of disease from urine and faeces  - Peter Dazeley Getty 

The bathroom is arguably the last bastion of privacy, but soon a new high-tech lavatory could be tracking your every movement.

Researchers at the European Space Agency (ESA) and MIT have teamed up with sanitation specialists to create the ‘FitLoo’ which screens human waste for early signs of disease.

Data gathered by the sensors in the toilet bowl could be beamed to the users mobile phone so they can see how their health is changing or even directly to the GP so they could keep a remote eye on patients.

“The toilet offers an incredible opportunity for people to gain control of their health,” said Michael Lindenmayer, digital health and smart sanitation lead at the Toilet Board Coalition, which represents many leading toilet manufacturers.

“At the moment is people only go to the doctor when they are sick. We do not listen to our bodies enough, but the toilet is listening every time we use it.

“There is a huge amount of health information that is simply flushed into the sewers every time we go.”

The project is based on automated sample testing technology already used by astronauts to monitor health in space. For example, the International Space Station (ISS) has been trialling a device called the Urine Monitoring System which tests small quantity of fluid when astronauts urinate.

Researchers have also been developing simple tests that can detect changes in glucose in urine or the presence of markers that might be an early warning of cancer or diabetes.

And scientists at Stanford University have developed a simple colour-changing paper test that, with the help of a smartphone camera, can detect diseases or spot signs of a urinary tract infection.

“At the moment these are a mishmash of technologies rather than a single device, but the aim is to combine them together into a smart toilet," added Mr Lindenmayer.

“You don't need to monitor for everything, as you can get a lot of information about your health from a few key pieces of data.

“The idea is that people will connect their phone to the toilet and get information about their health. If it sees something amiss, then they would go to the doctor for more detailed tests.”

The ESA is currently looking for companies who will adapt their technology for use in smart toilets.

By putting sensors into public toilets, it would allow health officials to track and predict the spread of diseases in communities, giving a vital early warning of outbreaks.

Davide Coppola, project manager of the Space for Sanitation project at ESA Business Applications team, said: “We have identified different opportunities for utilising space technologies and data for sanitation.

“One of those is to establish preventive health information systems by combining health data from toilet smart sensors with satellite Earth observation data.

“If you have 1,000 smart toilets collectively monitoring certain diseases in an area, you can use space data to fill in the gaps and calculate the likelihood of spread of diseases.

“There are a number of environmental factors that influence how a disease spreads and can be monitored from space - temperature, for example, or if there is standing water nearby.”

One start-up company supported by MIT, claims to already be working on a solution that could also adapt many existing toilets into FitLoos.

It is developing a small unit that can placed inside the toilet by clipping it to the rim, where it can monitor urine as it passes over it.

The company, called S-There, which is based in Bilbao, Spain, claims the device can monitor for conditions like diabetes or look for signs of protein in urine that can be an indicator of other more serious diseases.

Adrian Gomez, co-founder of the company, said they hoped to have their device approved my medical regulators and on sale by 2020.