In July, I attended the World Cities Summit in Singapore. Wandering around the exhibition hall I spotted an exhibition stand which had a lot of toilet appliances on display. Having seen a number of huge stands with driverless train models for example (we can’t get the guard off our trains let alone the driver, but don’t get me started on that one) curiosity got the better of me and I went across to discover that it was about Smart Toilet Technology which further intrigued me. What on earth is a Smart Toilet I wondered?
I’ll come onto that, but before I do, consider some of the experiences we encounter to understand how these can be improved by this Smart Technology.
Take the public toilet in my hometown. It smells awful. Same as the one at the railway station. But it’s a public toilet so what do we expect.
Department stores and restaurants tend to be much better as they reflect the company’s image to an extent. However, they are often very hot, which can also make the experience unpleasant. Some do have an automatic air freshener but these are often time-based, rather than shall we say, “needs based”.
Many pubs and fast food chains often have a notice board advising customers that the toilets are checked every hour and the time this has been completed is handwritten on to show this has been done. But if you have arrived say 50 minutes after the last check or clean, anything could have happened in between. Also, how do we know the person actually carries out a clean, or how long they spend doing it. Is it a supervisor who checks and then delegates the task to a cleaner and how is all that monitored? What it relies on is someone having to stop doing a task, go to the toilet and check the state of cleanliness. Apart from being inefficient it really is pot luck as to what they will find at a particular time. If it is dirty, how long has it been in that state since the last check?
Of course, we’ve all experienced the situation where the toilet paper has run out, or there are no paper towels to dry your hands. Or that the waste bin is overflowing with used paper towels strewn across the floor. But hey, only another twenty minutes until someone comes to check.
Another thing that the manual hourly check does not cover is the difference in how busy it is at different times of the day. It makes sense that over the lunch period, for example, more people will use the toilet than say early morning or late afternoon, yet the frequency of the check is often still confined to the rigid one hour.
At the football club I support, the taps are those which you press to get water and then slowly release to eventually stop the water and if you need any more, you press again. On countless occasions, the tap has become stuck and water is constantly flowing into the sink. Fortunately, there are no plugs in them!
That said, not all facilities are that low-tech. Some of the higher end establishments, typically hotels, have implemented infra-red beams which can automatically flush a toilet or urinal as you walk away, but they do not report a fault in one which may be close to overflowing, thus reducing capacity. This still relies on manual intervention.
No doubt you will have noticed that many toilet blocks at Motorway service stations have implemented a touchscreen with a range of smiley faces to give feedback about the cleanliness of the toilet.
These are a step in the right direction but I know many people will not use them as they believe they are not hygienic. Did the person who last touched it wash their hands before doing so? Doesn’t bear thinking about.
Some toilet blocks do have lighting which switches off when they’re unoccupied and when someone enters a motion sensor is triggered to automatically turn the lights on. This is a good energy saving device but I suspect I’m not the only person who has been alone in a toilet when the light has gone off as I’m not moving and put me in total darkness. Let’s be honest, you’re not in the best position to start moving to try and trigger it again nor is this a process best carried out in the dark.
So where do Smart toilets come in?
Cleaning services are one of the biggest challenges that facilities management industries face today. With limited available manpower and an ageing working population, current practices are not sustainable in the long run. There are a number of devices using the Internet of Things (IoT) which will not only enhance the experience for us but also provide greater efficiency savings for the provider by creating an effective working network to bring across communication seamlessly.
So here are some examples
- Odour detection – >10x more sensitive than conventional systems
- Temperature and Humidity monitoring
- Toilet Paper Empty Detection – state of the art sensing technology with a high level of product integrity and durability
- Smart Bin Fill Level Monitoring – accurate and real-time feedback
- Human Traffic Count – >70% more accurate than conventional monitoring systems
- Individual Toilet Cubicle Detection – state of the art sensing technology with a high level of accuracy
- Electricity and Water Consumption Meter – accurate and real-time feedback
- Wireless Cleaner Attendance – contactless attendee taking. When they arrived and when they left, areas they entered.
- Remote Lighting Control – via App or web management portal
All these devices are connected to a web-based management portal, Smart notification and management App and a User Feedback Panel.
Certainly, those will make our experience much pleasanter but that is only the beginning.
With breakthroughs of “deep learning” allowing machines to process information to perform complex functions, Artificial Intelligence (Ai) can take over the control of resource management and manpower allocation.
The service provider can fine-tune their operating procedures from the Ai statistics which by complementing human expertise can make effective management decisions to improve the whole toilet experience. Its massive benefit is in enhancing management of resources and manpower deployment. Using the Ai knowledge, tasks are scheduled efficiently to each worker on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Manpower can be deployed effectively in relation to the daily workload and headcount forecast as well as being smartly managed and optimized, reducing wastage and costs. The Smart Toilet facilities provider makes some compelling arguments for cost-benefit savings. They say that a cleaner can potentially increase productivity by 30% based on a cleaning on-demand service model. As the software can automatically deploy and monitor resources there is the potential to improve supervisor productivity by 50%. Ultimately subject to premises and workloads, they estimate that service providers can save the cost of 1-2 cleaners.
We often have some apprehension about machines taking our jobs, but I suspect this is one job that we’ll be as happy to automate as much as possible. I just wish someone would tell my local council!
Barrie Dawson, COO.
© Yotta Laboratories