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Japan makes it easier to use its high-tech toilets

  • Bycnet2017-01-19 08:49:31

Japan makes it easier to use its high-tech toilets. Science & Technology World Website

Pressing the wrong button on a piece of technology is a rite of passage.

Pressing the wrong button and having streams of water pour hell-for-leather toward your nether regions is, sadly, a rite of passage in some of Japan's most high-tech restrooms.

It's not been easy for foreigners to decide which button does what in toilets that go far beyond the standard flush.

The nation's sanitation industry has, therefore, pulled together to get foreigners out of the mess they've been creating.

The Japanese Restroom Industry Association has just emitted a press release in which it announced a standardization of the often complex and contradictory signs that have adorned its toilets.

The toilets we're talking about aren't the usual basic things. They're known as "washlets" and they're full of exciting options. Sadly, some of those options made foreign users appear overly excited when they emerged. The signs, you see, didn't seem to make obvious sense.

Should you have never enjoyed a washlet, here are just some of the high-tech options they offer: lift the seat, put it down, long flush, short flush, heated seats, front and rear bidet and, naturally, hot-air drying.

Japan is deeply motivated to please foreigners because it will host the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympics in 2020.

It's bad enough hosting foreigners who have no idea how to hold chopsticks and ask for french fries with their teriyaki. The standardized icons might keep them from also coming back from the restroom looking like they've had an accident with a very large bottle of soy sauce.

As the press release puts it, Japan is keen on "communicating the 'clean toilet culture' to people all over the world."

I'm sure you know of several restrooms that could use Japan's clean toilet culture. Several people, too.

Japan using hi-tech toilets to woo foreigners


Japan is readying to lift the lid on what could be its most effective global marketing gimmick yet: the high-tech toilet seat.

Few foreign visitors make it through their first day in Japan without singing the praises of this epitome of Japanese know-how; a contraption that offers both comforting warmth and a frighteningly accurate bidet jet.

Now the government appears ready to capitalise on the enthusiasm and is set to talk up toilet technology as it launches a worldwide drive to promote Japan's prowess in innovation for the smallest room, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Clean toilets equipped with various features "will be a plus for tourism", and will be included in a growth strategy to be compiled this summer, the newspaper said, citing unnamed sources.

The government will consider installing more high-tech toilets in areas frequented by tourists, such as airports, the Yomiuri said.

The nation might also produce promotional videos for foreigners in a bid to showcase the comfort of Japanese toilets ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the newspaper said.

Nearly every household in Japan and most public restrooms are equipped with a seat that is plugged into the mains electricity.

At their most basic, they simply get warm, while at the other end they boast motion sensors, high-power odour-neutralisers and variable water jets, all tailored to conserve energy and water.

Some helpfully produce audio of flushing water for those shy users who don't want others to hear the sound of someone.... using a toilet.

The nation's bidet seats have won the hearts of the rich and famous, including Madonna and Will Smith, who have both sung their praises.

The seats are also among the most popular items targeted by Chinese tourists, ranking alongside high-spec rice cookers and cosmetics.


Pee-powered toilet could be 'everlasting' source of electricity

A prototype toilet that generates 'everlasting' electricity from urine has been launched near at a university bar.

The scientists behind the 'pee-power' toilet hope it can be used by aid agencies in disaster zones to supply much-needed electricity to refugee camps.

The technology uses microbial fuel stacks in the toilets, which feed on urine, creating biochemical energy that can be turned into electricity.

The urinal is the result of a partnership between researchers at the University of the West of England in Bristol and Oxfam.

The units contain bacteria that breaks down the chemicals in urine, in the process releasing energy in the form of electricity which is stored on a capacitor within a fuel cell.

'The microbial fuel cells (MFC) work by employing live microbes which feed on urine for their own growth and maintenance,' explained Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos.

'The MFC is, in effect, a system which taps a portion of that biochemical energy.

'This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilise fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply.'

It is located near the students' union at the university's Frenchay campus and researchers will be hoping for brisk business at closing time.

Students and staff are being asked to use the urinal to donate pee to fuel the microbial fuel cell stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.

The research team is led by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE Bristol, who is an expert at harnessing power from unusual sources using microbial fuel cells.

'We have already proved that this way of generating electricity works,' the professor said.

'Work by the Bristol BioEnergy Centre hit the headlines in 2013 when the team demonstrated that electricity generated by microbial fuel cell stacks could power a mobile phone.

'This exciting project with Oxfam could have a huge impact in refugee camps.

'The microbial fuel cells work by employing live microbes which feed on urine for their own growth and maintenance.

'The microbial fuel cell is in effect a system which taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts that directly into electricity - what we are calling urine-tricity or pee power.

'This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilise fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply.'

The urinal on the university campus resembles toilets used in refugee camps by Oxfam to make the trial as realistic as possible.

The technology that converts the urine in to power sits underneath the urinal and can be viewed through a clear screen.

Andy Bastable, head of water and sanitation at Oxfam, said: 'Oxfam is an expert at providing sanitation in disaster zones, and it is always a challenge to light inaccessible areas far from a power supply.

'This technology is a huge step forward. Living in a refugee camp is hard enough without the added threat of being assaulted in dark places at night. The potential of this invention is huge.'

They hope the abundant, free supply of urine will make the device practical for aid agencies to use in the field.

Prof Ieropoulos added: 'One microbial fuel cell costs about £1 ($1.5) to make, and we think that a small unit like the demo we have mocked up for this experiment could cost as little as £600 ($900) to set up, which is a significant bonus as this technology is in theory everlasting.



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