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WCs meet PCs: converged tech toilets show promise

Bodily_function()

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Microsoft's decision to flush away its iLoo project may have disappointed many readers, but some of the boldest technology research is taking place in our restrooms.

MIT's Dan Maynes-Aminzade is just one pioneer putting the PC into the WC. He's the co-author of " You're In Control " - the pun is intentional - a research project which thanks to a microcontroller and an uh, embedded x86 box, enhances the micturation process.

You're In Control has as many potential uses as we have toilet gags. The system "uses computation to enhance the act of urination. Sensors in the back of a urinal detect the position of a stream of urine, enabling people to play interactive games on a screen mounted above the urinal," according to the website.

Was this a joke, we wondered?

"Yes and no," Dan told us. "It's tapping into the almost primal feeling of marking your territory that comes with urination," he tell us.

"There's a lot of competition in toilets," notes Dan, who explains that the system lends itself to multiplayer games. "It really would be pissing contest," he points out. But the potential for interactive entertainment doesn't stop there.

"There are also carnival games: squirting water into clown's mouth where the balloon inflates."

No wonder clowns look so unhappy when they're offstage. If only they knew.

Bodily_function()

However , You're In Control has more serious uses, too. Dan envisages real-time urine analysis hooking up to drug tests or pregnancy tests. A PCWC might even combine the data to print a horoscope.

One difficulty he acknowledges is that it favors men. "Women are a little disappointed that they can't use the system. I don't think it's realistic to expect women to urinate standing up."

You're In Control was a side project for Dan, a grad student whose main research topic explores tangible user interfaces. The system made its debut at the CHI human interface research conference in April, where Maynes-Aminzade and co-researcher Hayes Raffle met with a Scandinavian toilet project.

A thoughtful paper entitled "The Toilet Entertainment System", by two researchers at IT-University of Gotenborg, Sweden, Par Stenberg and Johan Thoresson was also presented at the CHI conference.

"A toilet is a sheltered place for contemplation and reflection," note Stenberg and Thoresson, "even though some people are having problems with the solitude due to the fact that they are used to a constant flow of inputs and impressions."

The TES projects news or SMS text messages onto the bathroom tiles.

"How the visitor acts upon the information is something that is yet to be answered," they note.

Clearly a call for more research, and for potential VCs? This is no less potty than WiFi replacing digital cellular networks. ®

Right at the end of the corridor?
MIT: You're In Control
IT-Gotenborg: TES.

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