Restrooms for Universal Use: The Real Future of IoT?

Society Guide to Japan

The “internet of things” is being touted as the next step in everything from home automation to business efficiency. In a more down-to-earth application of this technology, restrooms with IoT features are in use at Narita Airport, targeted at foreign arrivals.

Bringing High Tech to Narita Toilets

Toto, the Japanese manufacturer with the largest share of the domestic toilet market, unveiled its newest products at Narita Airport on April 3, 2019: restrooms equipped with internet of things features. These IoT facilities aim to make use easy for everyone, including foreigners visiting Japan from overseas.

IoT-equipped restrooms cater to the needs of foreign visitors to Japan.
IoT-equipped restrooms cater to the needs of foreign visitors to Japan.

Upon entering, visitors find themselves in fresh, clean spaces. Each restroom stall is equipped with a touchscreen offering interface assistance in a selection of five languages, including English and Chinese.

Touchscreens are installed in each restroom stall, helping users navigate toilet functions in any of five languages.
Touchscreens are installed in each restroom stall, helping users navigate toilet functions in any of five languages.

When the stall door is closed, audio and video navigation describe how to operate the Toto Washlets. This guidance helps people from places where toilets with built-in bidet features are not the norm to experience these capabilities with ease.

Avoiding the Crowds

These state-of-the-art facilities also feature technology that makes it possible to tell how crowded a given restroom is, without actually having to go inside to find out. Sensors installed in ceilings, doorways, and other fixtures collect data, enabling providing external displays of occupancy and crowding inside.

Sensors collect data and provide occupancy and crowding displays.
Sensors collect data and provide occupancy and crowding displays.

Additional sensors are built into the washbasins and other fixtures to collect data on such statistical information as soap usage. This data allows remote tracking of consumable usage rates, facilitating better, more efficient overall management and janitorial work.

Foreign users’ impressions of the IoT-equipped restrooms were positive across the board. A Korean tourist called them “Innovative,” while a German tourist enthused: “It’s very amazing. This restroom is something else.”

Targeting Foreign Sales

A report from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry states that domestic sales of flush toilets have fallen from a peak of some 3.5 million units in 2006, and have been stagnant in recent years, holding steady at around 2.8 million in 2017. Toto is responding with this attempt to drive foreign sales by introducing foreign visitors to Japan to cutting-edge Japanese toilet technologies.

Toto Vice President Morimura Nozomu says: “Ultimately, our primary objective is retail sales to consumers. We’re trying to inspire people to consider buying our toilets for themselves when they go back to their own countries, having once experienced our Washlets during their stay in Japan.”

“China is a market poised for future growth,” notes Morita Akira, a Boston Consulting Group partner specializing in consumer goods and the retail industry. “When you buy a condominium in China, you pick out your own personal furnishings, as well as toilets and other fixtures. In this connection, it seems logical to use personal experience as a marketing strategy.”

IoT-equipped Toilets for Healthcare

Morita also notes an interest in the healthcare applications of toilets with IoT functionality. “Preventing lifestyle-related illnesses is essential to reducing medical expenses. One indicator of such illnesses is a deterioration in the quality of the constituents of urine.” Toilets that can detect this deterioration and inform the users of it, he notes, could be a boon to early illness detection.

(Originally broadcast in Japanese on FNN’s Prime News Alpha on April 3, 2019. Translated by Nippon.com.)

https://www.fnn.jp/

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