Automation has arrived in the Public Restroom

A few months ago, I attended a day of meetings with a client at a local golf club. During a break, I decided to use the restroom.  After a couple of cups of coffee and a steady flow of water, it was rather necessary. After I washed my hands, I walked over to the paper towel dispenser and couldn’t figure out how to extract paper from it. I could clearly see it was full, but there was no obvious way, it seemed to me, for paper to come out. I stood there, with dripping wet hands, dumbfounded. Then suddenly, my younger colleague, dare I say, a Millennial, waved her hand over a particular spot on the dispenser, and lo and behold, paper appeared. I was amazed. And confused. I couldn’t figure out the fancy technology behind a paper towel dispenser in a public restroom.

Once my hands were dry, I looked around this restroom and noticed that it was quite automated. Public restrooms are no longer just a flushing toilet and basic sink. There is complicated technology in there. And since that day, I have been most intrigued by the various kinds of technology that now exist in the public restroom.

I don’t have a bunch of photos to go with this blog post as I think I may have been stared at, or worse, arrested, if I started to take photos inside a public restroom. So, I will just go through some of my observations.

Some people believe – and some don’t – that the public restroom is one of the most germ and bacteria-infested places one can visit. Whether it be door handles, the floor, taps, sink or the toilet itself, we are encouraged to touch as little as possible in there. So, I guess it makes sense that there has been a big investment technology in the public restroom to help keep us clean and safe. But you have to touch some things, right? How about the toilet paper? Or is that covered in bacteria too?

The public restroom experience begins when you walk through the door. Buildings that are sensitive and inclusive always have the handicapped button on all doors, which is great. Recently I saw an even better button, which is both inclusive and perfect for germaphobes: you wave your hand in front of the button and the door opens. Brilliant!

public restroom
I got a photo of this, on the outside of a restroom. Just so smart.

Once inside, you will need to touch a door or at least the door handle, if you want to walk into, close and lock your cubicle door (I haven’t been in a public restroom yet that has an automated door on the cubicle). But the toilet, now that’s an automated beast.  How many times have you approached a toilet and it starts to flush before you even use it? Or how many times did you finish your business and the toilet didn’t flush? You search for a button, a switch or some sensor where you can wave your hands, and nothing. What do you do? Do you walk away and hope the smart toilet flushes on its own eventually?

Many public restrooms have installed the automated sink and soap dispenser. For some of them I find that I have to put my hands in a very specific spot and hold them still on a certain angle so that the water can flow. And I love the sinks that have the automated water and soap all together in one contraption.  There was one public restroom I particularly liked, in the airport in Rome, Italy (again, sorry, no photo), where each individual sink had an automatic tap, soap dispenser and even hand dryer. It was simple, clearly marked and very intelligent.

I feel like we are on the cusp of full automation in the public restroom. Most of the solutions, while sometimes confusing and complex at first, are very intelligent – and inclusive. I particularly love the technology that allows me to wave my hand to activate it (even though some of the sensors are still weak and don’t notice I’m there). The world is embracing technology everywhere, so why not in the public restroom?

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