More Intelligent Toilets: It’s Time to Upgrade Your Throne

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Yes, this is a toilet.  Courtesy Kohler

Look around your pad. From touch-screen appliances to smartphone-compatible thermostats and Amazon's voice-activated home automation hub, domestic tech is trending (Siri, Alexa, Fitz!). Like any great house party, though, the fun always seems to end up in the kitchen. Finally, there's a movement to bring digital advances to another vital room in the house: the bathroom.

"It started with a demand for efficiency and water conservation — like auto emission standards," said Dan Halloran, Senior Principal Engineer for Kohler, the global industry leader in plumbing fixtures. Halloran uses computational fluid dynamics and locally made soy bean paste (“faux poo”) to fabricate the flushing mechanism of the world's most high-performance WaterSense (think LEED Certified) toilets. 

Flushing performance is always the most important function when it comes to toilets, "but what can we do with aesthetics, economics, and manufacturability?" Halloran asks. He's got a point: Americans are largely still using essentially the same seat-and-bowl setup sold by Thomas Crapper & Co. Sanitary Engineers of London since the 1800s. Yet if you've ever spent time in Tokyo restrooms, you've encountered the Asian emphasis on toilets that blend comfort and dignity with physics and sleek design. Nowadays, a higher toilet IQ is coming down the U.S. pipeline with Kohler leading the way. New features include 1.2-gallon flush efficiency, auto-opening lids, built-in night lights, and heated seats (what would you expect from a company that's survived 143 Wisconsin winters).

Most interesting, though, is the bidet renaissance. Long a lonely, separate, and wholly foreign apparatus laying fallow adjacent the john, today's bidet is now smartly integrated into standard toilets. In no uncertain terms, a bidet is an upgrade for Americans — in lieu of thin, coarse, dry tissue, these thrones incorporate a warm and well-aimed spritz to your bits. 

Europeans have grown up with the standard, and now techies want in. There’s no need for major retooling and the intimidation factor is wiped away by Kohler’s stand-alone cleansing seats. These can be fitted onto most toilets, upgrading your standard sedan into a Cadillac for $160 to $1,900. If you're looking for something more aspirational, Kohler's three Intelligent Toilet models offer butt lux more akin to Aston Martin. They run $3,800 (Karing), $4,275 (Veil) and $6,300 (for a macked-out Numi, with advanced features like bluetooth speakers, ambient lighting, and foot warmers). “Once you try it, you can't live without it,” said Kohler's Nicole Allis, Senior Channel Manager. “People tell us, 'You have no idea of what you've done to my quality of life.’”