These days, 'smart' technology allows us to do more than ever from our laptops, computer screens, phones, and tablets. Most of the time, it seems to make our lives easier, safer and more convenient - from keeping an eye on the house while we're away, to feeding our pets, to even automating our lights and the temperature of our homes.
But what if it could do much more than just regulate cold air? What if it could go so far as being able to accurately diagnose disease, recognize drug and alcohol use and yes, even confirm pregnancy?
Researchers from Cambridge University are developing just that, and it seems to be sparking quite the controversy. According to reports, scientists at the NanoPhotonics Centre and the Melville Laboratory for Polymer Synthesis have developed a toilet that is able to analyze urine to determine the health of the user. Similar to a urine test taken at a lab or a doctor's office, it is able to detect and analyze sugar, drug and alcohol levels and even hormonal changes. However, unlike the lab, these toilets have a sensor that uses "nanotechnology," which is activated when you flush. Results are available within minutes and can be sent directly to your smartphone, tablet, and even a healthcare professional.
Proponents of the intelligent toilet claim that it could potentially save the NHS - The UK's public, tax-funded national health care service - millions of dollars by being able to diagnose health problems sooner and at home. However, privacy advocates are worried about the potential negative consequences of this technology. One of the biggest concerns is how and where these toilets could be used - for example, dishonest companies and employers could secretly install them to spy on their employees. Another ethical concern has to do with data sharing to third parties and possible privacy leaks.
Jeremy Baumberg, professor of nanoscience at Cambridge and director of the NanoPhotonics Centre, acknowledged the potentially adverse consequences that could stem from a smart toilet, claiming that they are acutely aware of the possibilities, and are in the throes of gaining feedback from the public on the matter.
"We're testing public opinion because we are well aware of the sensitivities of private medical data after the recent furore over the use of personal information by commercial companies," he said. Baumberg also expects the lavish loos to be priced at around £1,000 (around $1,700).
The smart toilet comes on the heels of another recent development in the world of pregnancy testing. U.S. startup company Lia is currently developing a pregnancy test made entirely from toilet paper-like material that is entirely flushable.