Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Stanford scientists engineer a ‘smart toilet' that checks your health
The smart toilet can analyze urine and stool samples for disease markers and can even recognize an individual user's "analprint".
- The toilet has played an important role in the history of sanitation and health.
- Stanford scientists have developed a "smart toilet" technology that analyzes a person's urine and stool samples for disease markers.
- The toilet could assist health care professionals by collecting valuable data that is typically flushed down the drain.
The toilet holds a special place in the history of health. For most of that history, people collected their waste in cesspits, chamber pots, or the occasional pigsty, all precariously close to where they lived and what they ate. This meant our ancestors were never far from whipworm, cholera, typhoid, giardia, and the cavalcade of other pathogens that call feces home.
The earliest flushing toilets only appeared around 4,000 years ago, courtesy of the Minoan and Indus Valley civilizations. And while much is made today of ancient Rome's plumbing prowess, the Romans were no strangers to the micro-nasties mentioned above. May have had something to do with the sponge on a stick used for wiping in public latrines—which, yes, was also for public use.
By the mid-18th century, inventors began crafting the mechanisms that would make the modern toilet possible. After that, a businessman named Thomas Crapper—his real name, though he is not the namesake of the euphemism—promoted and popularized the indoor water closet.
Since then, most of the advances in toilet technology have occurred downstream, erm, flush. Granted, the Japanese have stepped up the toilet game, incorporating heated seats, app functionality, and Bach string quartets into the experience. But these are chic accouterments to an otherwise set porcelain blueprint.
That changed with a new study out of Stanford.
Going to see a doctor about a horse
An image and diagram showing where the smart toilet's pressure sensor and stool camera are located.
Stanford researchers have completed a pilot study of their new "smart toilet" technology. The technology monitors user health through a suite of gadgets that evaluate urine and stool, well, samples.
The researchers published their findings in Nature Biomedical Engineering earlier this month.
"Our concept dates back well over 15 years," Sanjiv Gambhir, professor of radiology at Stanford and the study's senior author, said in a release. "When I'd bring it up, people would sort of laugh because it seemed like an interesting idea, but also a bit odd."
In truth, the researchers haven't designed a new toilet. They've outfitted a classic porcelain seat with an assortment of automated sensors and cameras to record the powder room happenings.
"It's sort of like buying a bidet add-on that can be mounted right into your existing toilet," Gambhir said. "And like a bidet, it has little extensions that can carry out different purposes."
The smart toilet uses pressure and motion sensors to track the frequency and duration of a user's restroom visits. A set of cameras then capture the deposits on video, while algorithms process the imagery to distinguish between healthy bowel movements and those showing signs of disease.
The toilet is also equipped with a urinalysis stick. This "dipstick test" can analyze urine for acidity, protein levels, white blood cell count, blood contamination, and other biomarkers.
The algorithms then compile the data for a preliminary diagnosis and send them directly to a health care provider's record-keeping system. These data could recognize the early signs for a host of diseases, such as kidney failure, irritable bowel syndrome, and colorectal cancer, much sooner than with traditional doctor visits.
And a major advantage to such a biometric device, Gambhir points out, is that it can't be duped by human interference or lack of commitment. Because everyone poops, it provides continuous health monitoring.
"The thing about a smart toilet, though, is that unlike wearables, you can't take it off," he said. "Everyone uses the bathroom—there's really no avoiding it—and that enhances its value as a disease-detecting device."
Yes, but does it have butt-recognition technology?
A mascot for the 2014 "Toilet!? Human Waste and Earth's Future" exhibition in Tokyo.
Obviously! There wouldn't be much point otherwise.
Since a house toilet will be used by a variety of people, Gambhir and his team had to devise a way for the technology to keep medical profiles distinct. They first added a fingerprint scanner to the flushing lever, and while it remains in the final design, they soon realized it wasn't enough. After all, if someone forgets to flush and another person flushes for them? Or the toilet has an automatic flush? That's valuable data down the drain.
So Gambhir and his team did the logical thing: They added a camera to the smart toilet that scans a user's anus to ensure health data is matched to the proper derriere.
Turns out a person's anal creases are as unique to them as the whorls on their fingerprints. That's because the pattern and number of creases are genetically determined, meaning only identical twins will have the same "analprint."
To assuage privacy concerns, the team secures all data transmission with end-to-end encryption that is HIPAA-compliant. Another approach is to use an infrared camera or low-intensity laser scanner, which allows the algorithm to produce an ID but does not produce a conventional image.
Interestingly, the idea of identifying people based on their analprint was not original to the team. According to study author Seung-min Park, the idea was borrowed from painter Salvador Dali, who studied anal creases for his unconventional erotic art.
We've come a long way since the hydraulic sewage system of the ancient Indus Valley civilizations.
All told, 21 participants used the smart toilet during the pilot run. For the next study, Gambhir and his team are hoping to increase number of participants, add new stool analysis features, and improve existing ones.
"The smart toilet is the perfect way to harness a source of data that's typically ignored – and the user doesn't have to do anything differently," Gambhir said.
- Get Off Your Smart Phone: The Disadvantages to Shutting Out the ... ›
- Smart Toilet: Getting to the Bottom of the Global Sanitation Crisis ... ›
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Humanity knows surprisingly little about the ocean depths. An often-repeated bit of evidence for this is the fact that humanity has done a better job mapping the surface of Mars than the bottom of the sea. The creatures we find lurking in the watery abyss often surprise even the most dedicated researchers with their unique features and bizarre behavior.
A recent expedition off the coast of Java discovered a new isopod species remarkable for its size and resemblance to Darth Vader.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.
According to LiveScience, the Bathynomus genus is sometimes referred to as "Darth Vader of the Seas" because the crustaceans are shaped like the character's menacing helmet. Deemed Bathynomus raksasa ("raksasa" meaning "giant" in Indonesian), this cockroach-like creature can grow to over 30 cm (12 inches). It is one of several known species of giant ocean-going isopod. Like the other members of its order, it has compound eyes, seven body segments, two pairs of antennae, and four sets of jaws.
The incredible size of this species is likely a result of deep-sea gigantism. This is the tendency for creatures that inhabit deeper parts of the ocean to be much larger than closely related species that live in shallower waters. B. raksasa appears to make its home between 950 and 1,260 meters (3,117 and 4,134 ft) below sea level.
Perhaps fittingly for a creature so creepy looking, that is the lower sections of what is commonly called The Twilight Zone, named for the lack of light available at such depths.
It isn't the only giant isopod, far from it. Other species of ocean-going isopod can get up to 50 cm long (20 inches) and also look like they came out of a nightmare. These are the unusual ones, though. Most of the time, isopods stay at much more reasonable sizes.
View this post on Instagram
During an expedition, there are some animals which you find unexpectedly, while there are others that you hope to find. One of the animal that we hoped to find was a deep sea cockroach affectionately known as Darth Vader Isopod. The staff on our expedition team could not contain their excitement when they finally saw one, holding it triumphantly in the air! #SJADES2018
A post shared by LKCNHM (@lkcnhm) on
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?
The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.
Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:
"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region."
The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its head. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and Great Old Ones.
The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.
In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.
The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.
Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.
Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.
Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.
A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.
Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."
Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.
Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.
"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.
Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.
"This is going to evolve fast!"
If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.
The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.
Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.
Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.
"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.
How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.
- Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
- "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
- The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet: cvdvaccine-us.com/recipients.