Think hi-tech toilets and what immediately comes to mind is, of course, Japan. No one in the world has quite managed to put technology to use in toilets the way the Japanese have. Their toilets are so filled with tech that sometimes the number of buttons rival the most complicated TV remote. Tourists are unsurprisingly often terrified of using a Japanese toilet, so much so that some people have obligingly put up guides on YouTube explaining what the typical set-up of buttons is all about.
The seat on many Japanese toilets, most of which are made by the company Toto, will lift and lower itself. No need to touch. There are then buttons to wash, water-massage, dry, and flush. There are fake flush or running water sounds or music and a sink combined with the toilet and de-odorisers too. The whole assembly is geared towards ease and cleanliness and hygiene.
Beyond outfitting the everyday toilet with every possible comfort, the Japanese have found multiple ways of conserving water by recycling. Where it comes to taking a bath, for example, a person must first use a quick shower and only then get into a bathtub where you can control the temperature to remain at a certain level. The bath water is actually re-usable by another person and in washing machines and other appliances, which are set up to draw it. Around the bathtub area, there are also call buttons for any emergency. Some claim that Japanese bathrooms are so comfortable that it’s tempting to stay in there for hours.
But what about the rest of us? Companies are working at bringing hi-tech toilets to other countries, including India. Ironic and unfortunate as it may be that a huge majority still head for the fields, there are now products for the luxury segment that upgrade the washroom to another experience altogether.
Mark Bickerstaffe, Director, New Product Development for Kohler Kitchen and Bath in Europe and Asia Pacific was recently in India to ‘get a feel’ of what Kohler could do to design products better for India, considering the country is on the leading edge of developing smart user interfaces and software. Kohler already has a design studio and design team in the country as well as a manufacturing plant where products are made for India and other countries. Kohler is particularly keen on the Indian market as the company sees it as an influencer of technology products in other markets internationally.
Intelligence you don’t see
Kohler’s approach, says Bickerstaffe, is to make technology that isn’t obvious but is at the same time of benefit to the consumer. “One should not have to be aware of the technology behind a product,” he says, “You don’t go to the bathroom to use a clever technological device, but to say, have a fantastic shower or to put on your make-up in the best way because the tech shows you how and even gives you tips. That’s very much our approach to products; it’s about intelligence that you don’t see, but it’s there.” In that sense, the approach is different from a Japanese toilet where you can easily press the wrong button and perhaps end up dousing yourself with water or creating some other form of toilet faux pas.
Kohler has a number of projects in progress in India and some products that the company is hoping to integrate into homes that are going smart with minimal disruption.
An in-mirror Alexa
For example, there’s Kohler’s Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror with Amazon Alexa built-in, the first-to-market bathroom lighted mirror available to consumers that has the virtual assistant embedded. You get all of the functionality of an Amazon Echo, like shopping, playing music, or receiving traffic updates, without creating clutter in the bathroom with another device. The Verdera has built-in voice-controlled dimmable LED lighting that can be adjusted (up to 1000 lux) to give a better make-up application or grooming experience. A motion-activated night light makes it easy to navigate your bathroom in the dark, and brightens to a comfortable level for handwashing.
Kohler believes the mirror is the perfect way to improve your morning experience by listening to weather or traffic information while you’re putting on make-up with the right lighting. From there, you can add lipstick or shaving cream to the shopping list with a simple voice command. The mirror can also improve bathroom safety during the night with the motion-activated nightlight that’s designed to illuminate the way. There is also a dual-microphone solution to enhance the accuracy of voice-control. Embedded speakers are housed in hermetically-sealed casing to maximize stereo sound quality.
Kohler, through its Kohler Konnect platform and smartphone app, has other applications in the IoT ecosystem as well. Alexa and even Apple’s HomeKit and Google’s Assistant can be integrated. One can use this to control the smart shower, music, water temperature, steam, and lighting. All of it can be stringed into a routine so that a single voice command can bring into play all the preferences that have been set. The app can also allow different user profiles for everyone in the house so your shower can be just as you like it. The bathtub, for those lucky enough to have one, can also be told what to do.
In more Japanese style, Kohler’s Numi toilet can lift the seat as you approach and warm up your feet as well as itself. A smart bidet, ambient lighting and music can add to the experience. You can also simply wave to flush.