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NIH spent $7 million developing a 'smart toilet' that videotapes its users

The technology was developed by Stanford researchers to help with early cancer detection.

Updated: January 3, 2021 - 6:52am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The Golden Horseshoe is a weekly designation from Just the News intended to highlight egregious examples of wasteful taxpayer spending by the government. The award is named for the horseshoe-shaped toilet seats for military airplanes that cost the Pentagon a whopping $640 each back in the 1980s. 

Our inaugural award of 2021 is going to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for funding a nearly $7 million grant to create a "smart toilet." 

Developed primarily at Stanford University, by way of the National Cancer Institute (part of the NIH), the smart toilet uses artificial intelligence to help monitor a person's health data in an easy and consistent way. The researchers describe their technology as "easily deployable hardware and software for the long-term analysis of a user's excreta through data collection and models of human health."

The device uses a urinanlysis strip to track at least 10 biomarkers in a person's urine, and measures the time between when the user sits down and their first bowel movement — a metric related to bowel health.

To use the device, an individual takes their place on the toilet, whereupon three cameras, including a video camera, would use biometric identifiers to create what the researchers call an "analprint." These unique images "securely associate the collected data with the user's identity." Both user identity and personal health data are transmitted from the bowl to a digital cloud system for storage.

In the hope of widespread public adoption, the Stanford scientists are developing the technology to attach to everyday home toilets.

The original grant issued by the NIH was meant to develop a non-invasive monitoring procedure that would help medical experts and patients with the early detection and management of colon and rectal cancers.

Perhaps inevitably, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) included the smart toilet in this year's Festivus report, his annual catalog of government waste.

"Leave it to the experts at Stanford to use cancer research money slated for developing non-invasive early detection procedures to develop perhaps one of the most invasive technologies imaginable," Paul's report gibed.

Ultimately, the report observes, "[N]o matter how good the technology is at achieving its goal, nobody is going to use a toilet that has three cameras and takes a video of the user's 'analprint' to identify the user, never mind one that stores the data in a digital cloud that hackers could access."

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