The technology press has been having fun with reports that it's possible to hack remotely into the Japanese-made luxury Satis "smart" toilet with an Android app to make it repeatedly flush, open or close the lid, or activate the bidet and air-dry functions. Now we need to fear security intrusions from the john?
The ability to commandeer a toilet to squirt water at your neighbor is an unfortunate malfunction of a toilet that retails for up to $5,686 and also lets users track bowel movements. But despite the clog in this high-end design, advances in toilet technology offer opportunities to hack the porcelain throne for good.
As the Bloomberg View editors have written, reinventing the toilet can do much to improve global health. Toilets are a luxury for many: One-third of the world's population, some 2.4 billion people, will remain without access to "improved sanitation" in 2015, according to a World Health Organization report released in May.
The need for hygienic, inexpensive toilets that can work without being attached to water and sewage systems led the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to organize the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge last year. It awarded funding to three designs: a solar-powered model that generates hydrogen and electricity; a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals and clean water; and a commode that sanitizes the contents and recovers clean water.
There has also been a push to develop mobile apps to address sanitation issues. The nonprofit group Toilet Hackers and the World Bank organized a hackathon last fall with about 1,250 programmers in 10 countries. Winning projects included mSchool, a text-messaging tool that monitors sanitation in schools; SunClean, an app with games to teach children about hygiene; and Taarifa, an app that enables public officials to respond to citizen sanitation complaints. There's also mSewage, which uses crowdsourcing to map the locations of sewage outflows and sanitation infrastructure, and Toilight, which helps users find the nearest toilet.
"Sanitation has to be sexy," John Kluge, co-founder of Toilet Hackers, said. "The products that are being created, the campaigns developed at local and international levels, they've got to be beautiful and inspiring and cool."
Even U.S. sanitation policy has had a recent hack. Representatives Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, and Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, introduced last week a modified version of the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act. The bill would modify existing spending to more effectively deliver clean water and sanitation assistance.
So let's focus less on the antics of "smart" toilets and more on the development of smart innovations to increase their access, impact and use.
(Kirsten Salyer is social media editor for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)