Smart bathroom technology
Smart technology is becoming an increasingly important selling point in the housing market. This means app controlled lights, voice activated speakers and smart technology is entering the bathroom arena. Joe Young looks at five technologies that are vying for a place in the smart bathrooms of tomorrow.
The smart home industry is rapidly growing and while early innovation in the space was predominantly in living areas it has now made its way to the bathroom. Showers, toilets, taps and even bath mats have been incorporated with smart technology and it seems the world of automation systems and the Internet of Things has collided with the world of plumbing.
There are start-ups creating niche shower designs as well as tech-giants like Google making a foray into the smart bathroom industry. Here are a few examples of smart products aiming to make their way into the modern day smart bathroom.
Google’s smart bathroom
Google has been making a big play into the smart home industry for a while now. The tech-giant released Chrome Cast, Google Home and has filed patents that provide clues as to what is planned for the company’s smart bathroom offerings.
The patents show toilet seats and bath mats with embedded sensors which can measure heart rate and body electrical patterns. It also describes a non-invasive camera in the bathroom mirror that can detect skin colour variation. Why? The idea is your smart bathroom would be able to provide health updates which can be analysed by health professionals. This way, your health can be monitored daily instead of once a month and in a way the user doesn’t need to take time out of their day to get a check-up.
This allows health professionals and the users themselves to identify trends in their health to determine whether ‘that workout routine they’re doing after work really is improving their heart health’.
The patents even allude to putting sensors in the toilet which can sense blood pressure and a sensor in the bathtub that creates an ultrasonic bathtub that can perform an echo test.
Isn’t reading our emails and our search history enough Google?
Cardiovascular disease, while largely preventable, is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. These sensors can monitor the key indicators that can show a user is going down a path of such health risks and can motivate them to live a healthier lifestyle.
As for what the public knows, right now these are just patents and ideas so we’ll have to watch this space. What we do know is those tech geniuses in Silicon Valley are exploring bathroom ideas that could one day save your life.
Steam bathing has been a popular activity among various civilisations as a form of relaxing, socialising and cleansing, for thousands of years.
Nowadays, the luxury of sitting in a fluff y towel in a steam filled room as relaxing music plays and aromas waft is a setting most would associate with a health retreat or gym rather than something you could achieve in your own home.
US manufacturer Mr. Steam is bringing this ancient tradition to a residential setting.
Let me set the scene for you… you get out of bed and start your steam shower. A generator heats water to 110°C so it becomes steam at atmospheric pressure. The steam then enters the shower enclosure through steam heads.
As your pores open up and relax the AromaTherapy starts to kick in as the scents of lavender and eucalyptus fill the air. ChromaTherapy then adds splashes of soft violet and indigo lights. To top it off relaxing music plays gently in the background.
Only issue is, it may make you late for work every morning.
As for the water efficacy question, Mr. Steam claims the steam generator will use 7.5L of water at most for a 20-minute steam shower.
The generator is the size of a briefcase making it easy to tuck away out of sight. Mr. Steam says the generator can be installed up to 18m away from the shower.
The system can be controlled by an LCD touch screen display which, needless to say, performs well in wet environments. The touch screen and mobile app communicates wirelessly with the rest of the system meaning the installation process does not need to involve cutting wiring holes through the bathroom walls. It also makes the system easy to be retrofitted to an old shower if that is what the customer requires.
Stingray mixer tap
Hansgrohe is doing its bit to motivate the next generation of plumbing system designers by awarding the Hansgrohe Prize. Last year’s awards had students and young designers from 24 countries submit 364 ideas for “Efficient Water Design: Digitalising the Modern Bathroom”.
One of these was the Stingray mixer tap which its creator Rok Kostanjšek from Slovenia is hoping will be used in bathrooms all over the world.
The Stingray mixer, which is shaped like the ocean creature it’s named after, is a tap with integrated hexagonal sensors which follows the movement of any object below the tap and allows water to flow only where needed. So if you put something small under the tap, like a toothbrush, only a small amount of water will come out.
Conversely, if you put both hands under the tap, enough water will come out to cover both hands. If you then moved your hands from left to right, the water flow will follow your hand movement.
There is a large display on the mixer’s head which indicates which sensors are being used. Then there is manual display mode, where flow size and placement can be pre-set by the user. The judges of the competition were full of praise for the simple yet effective design, labelling it an “ingenious idea.”
They stated, “a conventional water tap – totally redesigned. In this case, a completely new kind of motion control has been developed. Hand movements control the flow of water, creating an exciting new user experience.” Rok won the competition, which has provided him with the exposure and some funding to develop the idea to hopefully one day become a commercial product.
Toto’s self cleaning toilet
When it comes to chores people hate, getting on your hands and knees and cleaning toilets would be at the top of most people’s list. Good thing is, there are now smart toilets that actually clean themselves.
Japanese bathroom manufacturer Toto has released toilets with ultraviolet light technology and a glaze scientifically formulated to work with the light, surrounding water and oxygen that kills bacteria.
The Actilight, as the company calls it, is built inside the lid to activate the zirconium oxide to generate a photocatalytic process. That’s a lot of jargon to digest but the point is it leaves the toilet with a ‘shimmering quality’, according to Toto.
It all comes together in what the manufacturer describes as ‘the purification cycle’.
Before the toilet is used, a pre-mist is sprayed into the bowl as dirt finds it harder to stick to a wet surface. After use there is an automatic flush with ewater+ (electronic water), an antibacterial liquid designed to prevent waste particles accumulating and staining the toilet bowl. Then the UV light activates the photovoltaic process which decomposes any remaining waste particles.
This is all after the toilet automatically lifts the sensor controlled lid and warms the seat for you I might add.
Luxury toilets are already very popular in Japan and are quickly being adopted all over the world. A Toto NEOREST self cleaning toilet will set customers back a pretty hefty $10,000. So the question is… how much do you hate cleaning toilets?
Nebia’s misty shower
Water efficient shower heads are nothing new, but a product offering a 70% reduction in water usage and a new showering experience is making a splash.
Nebia uses a mere 2.8L of water per minute compared to the North American industry standard of 9.5 litres. Not happy with simply saving water, the creators also claim the product offers a brand new showering experience that ‘revitalises your skin and your soul’. We’ll let customers decide for themselves.
These are pretty big statements to make but testing at Equinox Gyms, Apple, Google and Stanford University confirms it is a markedly different showering experience. To achieve large water reductions, Nebia engineers developed new shower nozzles using aeronautical engineering principles to create a powerful mist rather than a stream of water. The nozzles atomise the water into ‘millions of droplets to create 10 times more surface area than a regular shower’. The user therefore gets more coverage for less water.
The shower head is made of a high density polymer with thermoplastic polyurethane mounted on an anodised aluminium bracket that slides to position close to the user’s crown.
The Nebia shower head requires 40-60 PSI water pressure.
Concerns have been raised about the design, such as the finer droplets being more susceptible to heat loss. The company claim to have addressed this problem with improved engineering, but they are (not surprisingly) reluctant to explain it.
Perhaps the biggest tick of approval for the product was personal testing and backing of the investment by Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Air BnB founder Joe Gebbia and Google co-founder Eric Schmidt.
While the likes of Cook, Gebbia and Schmidt are leaders of industry disruption technologies and smart product design, Plumbing Connection question their penchant to pure design for designs sake, without consideration to health and safety.
Sure Nebia looks cool and the ‘experience’ may produce millions of droplets of water, but does it really give you the clean feel experience we’re so used to with our showers? Check out our ‘Testing the Waters’ article from our Summer 2016 edition to learn about CSIRO’s shower head testing efforts. And more to the point, have any of the industrial designers actually considered that such a spray/misting shower may well become a Legionella death trap, if it doesn’t allow stranded warm water to escape.
That’s where true functional plumbing design separates itself from just another nice look.