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Why Public Bathroom Sensors Don’t Always Work

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A successful trip to a public bathroom includes using your hands as little as possible, so motion sensors should be a welcome feature. The technology is meant to offer convenience and cleanliness, but it’s instead become associated with stingy air dryers, phantom flushes, and faucets that won’t respond to anything less than 30 seconds of intense flailing.  

To know what’s happening when these sensors fail, it’s important to understand how they’re meant to work in the first place. Products can vary, but the majority of bathroom sensors rely on infrared technology. When a toilet isn’t being used, the sensor emits a continuous beam that covers the area of the toilet seat. When a user sits down, it switches to “hold mode” and waits to flush until the immediate space has been vacated. Some models adjust their flushing strength depending on how long the user was there (so you can add “how much time you spend on the toilet” to the growing list of things you can’t hide from robots).

If the automatic flush fails to activate, it’s likely because the sensor hasn’t been cleaned properly. Hard water can cause calcium and lime build-up, which is the most common source of performance issues. Sometimes the problem can be explained by people sitting too far away from the sensors or peeing while standing up. Dead batteries could also be the culprit. 

These are the results when the technology fails, but it can be even more frustrating when the motion sensors function exactly the way they were intended. To speed up traffic flow in busy bathrooms, owners will dictate how long their faucets and air dryers run. If you’ve noticed speedier bathroom appliances in stadiums and casinos, that’s not in your head. The allotted time per use is optimized to account for heavy foot traffic, making sure users get in and out quickly no matter how wet and soapy their hands are.

Because this technology can be easily regulated to suit the owners’ preferences, it’s extremely popular with prison markets. Prisons have become something of a testing ground for bathroom sensor innovation, with technology like remote controlled bathrooms already becoming well-established there before taking off in the commercial sphere. If a future high-functioning, micro-managed public bathroom waits on the horizon, you'll have the prison system to thank. 

[h/t: Vox]

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fun
Move Over, Golden Toilet: Now There’s a $100K Louis Vuitton Potty
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Tradesy
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Tradesy

In 2016, the Guggenheim Museum installed a one-of-a-kind, fully functional toilet made of solid gold, created by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan just for the museum. Now, there’s another insanely luxurious art-toilet to look out for—and this one you can take home.

Made by artist Illma Gore for the luxury resale platform Tradesy, the Loo-Uis Vuitton Toilet is covered in $15,000 worth of monogram leather ripped from Louis Vuitton bags. Everything but the inside of the bowl—which is gold—is covered in that instantly recognizable brown designer leather. It's one way to show your brand loyalty, for sure.

The toilet is fully functional, meaning, yes, you can poop in it—although that would require you (at some point) to clean the leather undersides of the seat, which sounds … gross. But then again, the leather is brown, so do what you will.

A toilet art piece stands under a pink neon sign that reads ‘No Fake Shit.’
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Tradesy

Does sitting on it feel like using those squishy-soft toilet seats your grandma has? Please let us know, because we don’t have the $100,000 it would take to buy it for ourselves. Note that while the site sells used goods, the description makes sure to specify that this one is new.

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Design
A Portable Kit Relies on Everyday Items to Bring Toilets to Disaster Zones
Carl Court/Getty Images
Carl Court/Getty Images

If you look at the minimLET, you probably don't immediately think “toilet.” The kit, made by the Japanese design firm Nendo, consists of a piece of white, curved plastic, a sheet of fabric, a segmented aluminum pole, plastic bags, and tissue paper. But to survivors of natural disasters, the device may be the closest thing they get to an actual toilet while living in an emergency shelter.

As Co.Design reports, the minimLET addresses a major issue faced in disaster zones that often goes ignored: the lack of flushing toilets. Earthquakes and hurricanes can leave communities without power and clean drinking water for extended periods of time. They're also capable of destroying sewage systems. But because people can survive without private bathrooms, in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, the lack of toilets doesn't usually get top billing.

There are portable toilets designed for such situations, but most of them are big and bulky, making them hard to deliver to affected areas. In response to disasters like Japan's Tōhoku earthquake in 2011, Nendo devised a better solution: a portable, minimalist toilet that can be set up anywhere.

A plastic toilet seat stands on four aluminum legs.
Nendo

The minimLET toilet is compact enough to slide into a small bag, making it easy to transport and store. To set it up, you just need to secure the plastic seat to the four aluminum legs and attach a plastic bag underneath to act as the toilet bowl. The nylon cloth included in the kit works like a poncho to provide privacy in open areas.

The product is adaptable depending on the needs of the user. For added seclusion, you can also set the seat on plastic water bottles or metal cans weighted down with sand, allowing you to use the aluminum pipes as a tent pole instead of legs for the toilet. Then you can attach a cheap umbrella to the pole and drape the nylon cloth over it to form a makeshift outhouse, as you can see in the video below. The kit’s carrying case doubles as a waterproof pouch that can transport more than 4 gallons of liquid at a time.

That adaptability was a major goal for the design firm. “When living in evacuation shelters in contemporary urban spaces, various everyday items and waste materials are available" like umbrellas and 2-liter soda bottles, as Nendo writes on their website. "It was possible to appropriate such everyday items, due to the fact that these external dimensions, cap sizes, screw shapes, etc. are standardized to some extent to fit the shelves and vending machines in retail stores."

The minimLET is set to make its commercial debut in Japan sometime next year.

[h/t Co.Design]

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