The Fully Automated Bathroom

By Betsy Bradford

I recently heard about a Japanese robot that cleans your house for you. There's even an app for your smartphone that allow you to map out your home and control the robot remotely, so that you can clean your house without even being home. Cool.

Technology has done some pretty great things, but most of them haven't been in the bathroom. In fact, I might argue that, since John Harington invented the flush toilet in 1596, technology has done nothing to improve our waste-producing experience.

It's not for want of trying, of course. Anyone who's used a public bathroom in the last ten years knows this. In my opinion, airports of the worst offenders. I hate flying, in large part because it means spending hours entombed in a metallic capsule with 100-odd people and their germs. Airport terminals are only marginally better. By the end of the day, I feel so dirty I want to flay my skin off rather than wear it for another minute.

The airports have done their best to make our bathroom visit as hands-free as possible. No touch, no spread of germs. Unfortunately, this has made most airport bathrooms borderline unusable.

Take a recent experience. I enter a restroom and see that the toilet seat is somewhat less than sparkling. So, I put down a seat cover. Before I can unbutton my jeans, the seat cover vanishes. The hands-free flusher is so sensitive that it whisked it away without me even having to sit down. Fwoosh!

The only way I can actually get a seat cover onto the toilet is to hold it against my posterior as I sit down. Even then, any time I shift my weight, the toilet flushes again. It must have flushed five times while I was in that stall.

Eventually, I finished with my business and go to wash my hands. Whatever water the airport wasted with the excessively sensitive toilets, they appear to be trying to recoup with the almost impossible to use sinks. They're supposed to be motion sensitive, but I'll be damned if I can find the sensor on most of them. Instead, I'll stand there waving my hands like a prestidigitator, hoping (and failing) to magically produce water from thin air.

My waving has made one thing work, however. The hands-free soap dispenser seems to be equipped with the same detector as the toilet. Every little gesture sets that thing off! While I move from sink to sink, trying to produce even a drop of water, I'm squirting soap all over the place. I probably would have washed $30 worth of soap down the drain by accident if I could have turned the faucet on.

Finally, I manage to find a working sink and washed my hands with my gross excess of soap. Then, I want to dry my hands. Silly of me, I know. The hands-free paper towel dispenser works just fine, but seems to have been programmed to dispense two square inches of paper towel per patron. So, I did the reasonable thing: I went back for more. Well, they got me there, too. They won't immediately dispense more paper towels. You have to wait, then go back, and repeat until you almost (but not quite) have enough to dry off.

Honestly, if there's one area of my life where I can live without machine intervention, this is it. I understand they're trying to be hygienic, but if you've seen the inside of an airport bathroom lately, you know just how miserably they're failing. Maybe the people making the Japanese cleaning robot should have a go at designing the automated bathroom. Until then, I'm just going to be thankful they haven't tried to automate wiping yet.