In the near future, home bathrooms will be able to monitor the health of older residents. Professor Che-Hsin Lin and his team at National Sun Yat-Sen University’s Department of Mechanical and Electro-Mechanical Engineering have spent five years researching and building a “Utility Solution Sensor”, which is less than 1 cm3 and fits inside the toilet bowl. In under a second, the device detects a liquid’s pH value, temperature and ion concentration, then uploads the data to the cloud. As well as water, it also works on urine, saliva and sweat. With just a smartphone, users will be able to monitor the health of family members or patients.
On 12 June, National Sun Yat-sen University signed a contract with bathroom equipment manufacturer HCG to develop a “smart toilet” that runs diagnostic tests on urine and gives immediate results, enabling users to keep an eye on their health and discover any abnormalities in real-time. The unique solution created by Professor Lin and his team has huge potential for application: it can be tailored to help in long-term elderly care, diagnostic tests, oral health, smart clothing and water quality monitoring. “It takes no time to run a test, and you see the results on your smartphone right away,” said Lin.
As principal investigator on the project, Professor Lin says in the past sensors were too complex and too expensive—costing thousands or even over ten thousand dollars for a single device. They were also difficult to maintain, needing to be washed and soaked in solution after each use because they would stop working if they dried out. This made it difficult to use such devices in water quality monitoring, aquaculture or bathrooms. The Utility Solution Sensor is stable, fast and easy to maintain. Only a third the size of any other sensor on the market, it’s fully portable and a lot cheaper than conventional sensors.
As well as urine, the Utility Solution Sensor can also run diagnostic tests on sweat, saliva and water quality. Professor Lin also points out that the device can be used in conjunction with smart water meters to monitor domestic water quality from your smartphone. This new technology can also be applied in agriculture, aquaculture, river environment monitoring and even oral health: running tests on saliva can help prevent tooth decay and periodontitis and help you carry out other forms of oral care.
The sweat sensor for smart clothing is the only technology on the wearables market today that monitors the chemical properties of sweat. The research team said that while conventional wearables only detect physical events like heart rate or step count, this new technology accurately analyzes sweat almost instantaneously and is thin enough to be integrated into fabrics. Runners who like to push the envelope and who are in danger of suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke will start to sweat copiously, which will lead to a big change in the sweat’s pH value. On detecting this change, the device can send a warning signal to the runner via a smartphone and suggest that elusive PB would be better left for a cooler day…