Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Internet of Pee?

Oh, there’ve been smart toilets out there for a while: Toilets that flush for you. (You know, the kind in airports that don’t flush all the time, no matter how frantically you wave your hand in front of the sensor?) Toilets that sense how much water each flush needs. (So you don’t have to remember which icon on your flush selector goes with Number One and which one is for Number Two.) Toilets with built- in Bluetooth and MP3 playing capabilities.(Because, God forbid, we should ever have a moment when we’re not listening to our tunes or whatever. Who wants to listen to those splashing sounds when your precious body fluids and solids make landing? Let’s drown them out.)

But toilets are going to get a lot smarter. A whole hell of a lot smarter.

Or so I learned from a recent report from the Stat.

You’ve heard of the world’s smallest violin (and its principal use: being used by the world’s smallest violin, to play your song)? Well, scientists – you know, the folks who believe in evolution, environmental pollution, climate change and stuff like that – have come up with the world’s tiniest microscope. No more kids in bio class, struggling to adjust the focus so they’re actually seeing something on that slide, and not just the eyelash getting in their way. No more shots of serious-looking, white-coated scientists in the lab, one eye closed, the other peering into a stand-up microscope, doing some ultra scientific stuff that will probably bring them the Nobel Prize.) Nope. The nano kid on the block is:

… so minuscule that just a single molecule can fit inside. The cavity consists of a tiny, atom-sized bump in a bit of gold that confines light to less than a billionth of a meter in length.

Sounds like something straight out of Fantastic Voyage, no?

Now, the researchers are looking into the same idea —trapping light between tiny gaps in nanoparticles — as a way to pick up on small numbers of biomolecules in the body. One idea they're working on: an intelligent toilet.

What’s an intelligent toilet got to do with the world’s tiniest microscope?

Well you may ask.

What the world’s tiniest microscope can do is measure “the levels of a number of neurotransmitters in your urine.” This type of measurement has up to now been something reserved for the hospital. Now, your toilet bowl can become your measuring cup. One application? Suggesting “when people with mental disorders should consider medication.”

I’m trying to figure out just why this would require the world’s tiniest microscope. Wouldn’t it get flushed or brushed or Ty-D-Bol’d over? Wouldn’t something more the size of those cleaners/deodorizers that some people attach to the toilet bowl’s rim work better? After all, they would also need some sensors in there to respond to whatever the microscope is telling them about the pee – info transmitted, no doubt, by Bluetooth. The microscope wouldn’t have to be all that tiny.

Whatever the size, I would think that alerting people with mental disorders to start taking their meds is a good thing. But wouldn’t getting a message straight from their toilet bowl scare the shite out of anyone, let alone someone who may be experiencing some mental health issues?

I have auditory images of Moaning Myrtle, moaning up from the Hogwart’s toilets in Harry Potter. “TAKE YOUR MEDS.”

Not, of course, the way it will work in real life.

In real life, the data from your pee will get sent to your smartphone, or an alert bracelet you’re wearing, or to your doctor or health care aide. I have a client that has a technology platform for enabling telehealth apps. (Got that?) There are tons of interesting things being done that should (eventually) start providing better and more cost-effective patient outcomes.

Meanwhile, if it weren’t so miniscule that I couldn’t see it without a super-duper version of the old-fashioned lab microscope, I’d be keeping my eye on the world’s tiniest microscope.

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