First, a warning: if you're not interested in reading a frank discussion of personal hygiene, go ahead and hit that back button now. Similarly, if you're already thinking, "what does this have to do with operating systems?" -- Back button.
OSNews readers in some parts of the world will wonder what's so "wired" about a bidet seat, or might marvel at the fact that I'm impressed by anything so mundane. The truth is, however, that while traditional bidets are ubiquitous in some places, and electronic bidets are common in others, in the United States, they're still somewhat of an oddity. For many people who are unfamiliar with them, the idea of squirting water on your nether regions after using the toilet strikes them as a superfluous luxury at best, and at worst, ironically, a somewhat-dirty self-indulgence. Keep in mind though, that only a couple of centuries ago, most Europeans and Americans felt largely the same way about bathing.
Bidet users, however, find the idea of relying on toilet paper to be somewhat barbaric and certainly sub-par from a cleanliness standpoint. Someone likened it to trying to clean up spilled peanut butter by smearing it in with a dry towel. If you can excuse this apt but somewhat crude observation, I've discovered that the water vs. paper controversy actually makes more sense when you consider some differences in human anatomy. Some people's anal area and sphincter position is shaped so that there is very little soiling, and other people end up with a major cleanup project. So the people in column A, when they use paper, make one little wipe and all is well. The unfortunates in column B have a much harder time of it. I must admit that I'm a column B guy, and so I've been unhappy living in a toilet paper world. That's why the bidet seat has been such a revelation to me.
While I'm grossing everyone out, I should also mention that anyone who suffers from hemorrhoids will benefit tremendously from using water to clean up rather than toilet paper.
The traditional bidet, used for all kinds of personal washing, has been around for 300 years, but the bidet seat, used strictly for post-toilet use, is strictly a modern-era innovation, starting to achieve widespread adoption in Japan in the eighties. Japanese plumbing giant Toto has been the leader in the field, but over the past decade, several other manufacturers have entered the market, including Coco, a US-based company that's new to the market but has produced a very polished and functional product.
Bidet seats range in price from around $100 to well over $1000. The Coco model I installed is in the middle of the price range at just under $600. The inexpensive units are essentially a nozzle to channel cold water from the toilet hookup into the bowl. As you move up the price range, you start to have comfort and convenience features like heated water, heated seats, built-in deodorizer, a hot air blowdryer, adjustable nozzles with different spray patterns, convenient remote controls, etc. As you get to the high end of the price range some of the features move into the realm of the silly: seats that raise and lower by remote control, seat massage features, automatic flushing, etc.
Installing my Coco bidet seat involved removing the regular toilet seat, screwing in a mounting plate onto the toilet bowl, sliding the bidet in, unhooking the water supply from the toilet tank, installing the included T valve and water filter, and connecting the bidet seat to the water supply. All in all, it took me about ten minutes, and only that long because I dropped an O ring seal when I was unpacking, and had to find it.
Probably the most difficult thing about installing a bidet seat in most homes is that electricians rarely install electrical outlets behind or near toilets. It's not required in the International Residential code, which dictates the location of electrical outlets in most homes. A GFCI electrical outlet (that won't electrocute you if an appliance is dropped in water) is required to run any electronic bidet seat, obviously, so it might be necessary to have an electrician retrofit an outlet. They can usually tap into a nearby outlet, so it may or may not be a huge job. In my case, I was specifically interested in these things when I built this house, so I made sure to include an outlet behind the toilet.
This particular bidet seat has a wireless remote control, which attaches to the wall (I put it right above the toilet paper roll). Less-expensive units often have the controls to the side of the seat, which isn't as convenient. There are a lot of buttons on this control. If I were to design it, I would have tried to make the interface a little more intuitive, but once you know what all the buttons do, and what your preferences are, it's pretty easy to use.
It has an LCD screen that displays the time of day and status information. It has several "programming buttons" that let you specify what temperature you'd like the water heated to, temperature of the heated seat, etc. The rest of the buttons control the various features: rear cleaning, front (feminine) cleaning, a (gentler) kids' setting, the hot air dryer, and IIP, which pulses the water to help out with constipation.
The Coco has one of the best energy efficiency settings in the industry, only heating the seat and water when you're using it. The downside is that the water can be a little cooler unless you're on the toilet for a long time before activating it. The upside is less electricity use. Bidet seat manufacturers often tout the environmental benefits of using bidets instead of paper. I think those claims are overblown, especially if, like me, your electricity is generated from burning coal. Paper, electricity, six of one, half a dozen of another.
Probably my major gripes with this product is that, as someone who's accustomed to being able to customize the software I use everyday, I found myself wanting to reprogram the device's controls a bit, and wishing for some slightly more sophisticated technology. I don't miss the whiz-bang features that other products have, like the motorized automatically opening toilet lid. What I'm interested in is more of a open platform that would allow me to configure presets for the controls. For example, to set the spray to the oscillating version that I prefer, and to get the wand extended so it sprays in the right place, I have to make several button presses on the remote. I'd like to be able to program the remote so I'd only have to press one button. I'd like to be able to have presets for each member of the family, or even have the toilet seat identify me by my weight and know my preferences.
Additional uses of computing technology in the WC don't need to stop with bidet features. A few years ago, Toto developed a toilet that monitors your health by analyzing sugar levels in your urine and including a blood pressure cuff attachment and scales to measure Body Mass Index. All this data is uploaded to a server that can track the data points over time. A British company in working on an even more comprehensive health-monitoring toilet. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say, and since checking your bodily waste is the most convenient way of identifying many health problems, it makes a lot of sense to integrate health monitoring technology into the toilet.
What will the everyday toilet work like in 100 years? Will computing technology and networking play a large part in the average household, or will these features stay confined to technophiles and Japanese people? From my experience with the Coco bidet, I'd venture to say that we'll see a lot more people using high tech toilets in the coming decades. I'll classify it in the same category as the internet, Wi-Fi, Netflix, and mobile phones: before it existed I didn't know I needed it, but now that I'm used to it, you'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.
As a postscript, people have become so dependent on these things that they're now marketing poerable ones.
To learn more about the Coco Bidet, visit Bio Life Technologies