Techies tinker with toilet-topper to turn it into ticker-tracker

Are you sitting comfortably? Perhaps not for much longer

For many people, the toilet is a place of quiet contemplation, somewhere to escape the pressures of work or home for a while. But that might be over soon – as boffins eye up the data they can collect while you're sitting on the throne.

As if connecting your fridge, TV, vacuum cleaner and dog to the internet weren't enough, the next victim of the IoT march of progress is the humble loo seat.

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A group of well-intentioned academics have created a toilet seat that will monitor the user's heart rate, integrating various "-ograms" (an electrocardiogram, ballistocardiogram, and photoplethysmogram) into your plastic perch.

The team, from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, published an article in the journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth at the end of last month.

The aim is to reduce the number of times people with heart failure are hospitalised, to reduce costs and improve patient health by spotting problems early. The premise is that patients aren't always the best at home monitoring, and so require an easier, um, so-loo-tion. And, after all, everybody poops.

By tapping the toilet seat, patients don't have to remember to monitor their heart rates, and don't have to change their behaviour (much).

The paper aimed to assess whether the "toilet seat-based cardiovascular monitoring system" was able to accurately assess blood pressure, stroke volume, and blood oxygenation.

For the trial, 18 volunteers were asked to sit on the loo while it attempted to measure blood pressure and blood oxygenation data, and some 38 healthy and 111 heart patients were asked to take a pew in order to assess stroke volume measurements.

It concluded that "clinical grade accuracy was achieved for all of the seat measurements when compared to their respective gold standards" and that it had captured data in the home "that has been previously unattainable".

However, the poo-ticipants in the study were precisely the opposite of that: they weren't actually using the toilet for its real purpose. The IEEE blog quoted study coauthor Nicholas Conn as saying that urination and defecation put minor stress on the body and thus could alter the readings.

In the future, the plan is to add algorithms that identify and reject moments where people are relieving themselves – presumably so any, er, straining isn't seen as a warning signal that the person needs urgent care.

The academics also said that further clinical trials, including targeting a reduction in heart failure hospitalisations, would be needed to prove the tech had a clinical benefit. ®

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