The Japanese bathroom experience is akin to taking your butt to visit a swanky, high-tech spa. However, there is one downside to smart toilets that no one talks about: all those buttons every user is pressing. They’re not especially hygienic, so one company has come up with a solution in the form of floating holographic buttons that can be pressed without touching anything.
Toilets that handle all of the messy cleanup do help to keep your hands and fingers cleaner, but given the basic nature of what transpires in a bathroom, any interactions that happen in there will still leave you wanting to thoroughly scrub your hands clean afterwards. As much as I want to believe the myriad of buttons mounted near a smart toilet are clean, basic science tells me I’m touching a microscopic mosh pit of organisms I really don’t want to physically interact with.
One solution is to make smart toilets even smarter and predict or recall the settings a user may want when they plop down (although using image recognition to identify a user and remember their preferences takes creepy and invasive to the next level). A potentially better solution comes from the Murakami Corporation, a Japanese company that specialises in rear-view mirrors for cars.
The Murakami Corporation has partnered with Parity Innovations, a startup that developed a holographic display technology, the Parity Mirror, which breaks up a projected image using a series of tiny mirrors and then refocuses them into a reconstituted image that appears to float in mid-air. What the Murakami Corporation brings to the table is its infrared sensors, which are able to detect the presence of fingers without them having to make physical contact. The result is a series of glowing buttons that don’t actually exist but can still be activated by touching them.
While Murakami is trying to bring the technology to market as a much-needed upgrade for smart toilets, it also comes at a time when touching anything out in public is something to avoid while the covid-19 pandemic continues. The floating holographic buttons would also be a welcome upgrade in places like elevators, ATMs, cash registers, and even the self-ordering kiosks that fast food restaurants like McDonald’s now employ around the world. Some experiments have found those kiosks to be especially contaminated with stuff you don’t want to touch.
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The displays could also be useful around the house on devices like kitchen appliances, making it so you could still operate them with wet or dirty hands. Other bathroom staples like showers are also getting smart upgrades, which means there are lots of buttons to operate. It will be a few years before your bathroom gets a holographic upgrade, however, as the Murakami Corporation isn’t planning to mass produce the displays until 2022, and it will take a while for the technology to spread outside of Japan.