While many grey nomads love the ‘romance’ of the often basic toilets on offer alongside this country’s highways and byways, most would admit the facilities aren’t always as ‘user friendly’ as they might be.
Indeed, while it can be wonderful to imagine the drovers and jolly swagmen who once used those very same drop dunnies, the idea of replacing the cobwebs and redbacks with white tiles and hand sanitiser dispensers does have some appeal.
But, of course, that’s just wishful thinking … isn’t it? Australian adventurers are surely destined to forever hold their noses and hope for the best as they warily swing open the creaking door of an Outback loo … aren’t they?
While it is fair to say there have been some advances in composting toilet technology, it is also fair to say that facilities in Australia aren’t undergoing the same revolutionary transformations they are enjoying elsewhere. The geography of Japan may be significantly different to this country’s, but so too it seems is the desire to flush away the toilet technology of the past.
A case in point is the recent announcement by highway operator, the Central Nippon Expressway Co, that it is to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) technology at toilets at its service centres and parking areas.
Sensors will be set up on restroom ceilings to detect humans and objects, and alert authorities when someone leaves belongings behind or is struck by sudden illness. Basically, when the technology sees an object hasn’t move for a certain period of time, it will be judged as being left behind, and when a body doesn’t change position for a time, a sudden illness will be assumed.
In the case of lost articles, the system will flash a light, and also play an audio message, saying: “Do you have everything? Please check your belongings.”
At toilet facilities along highways operated by the company, 23,000 items were reported lost in the last fiscal year. In the Gozaisho service area along the Higashi-Meihan Expressway alone, about 500 lost items have been spotted at restrooms in the past 12 months. Smartphones account for 30% of the articles, while bags and wallets account for about 10% each.
The new AI sensors are being tested at two men’s restrooms at the Kuragaike parking area by the Tokai-Kanjo Expressway in Aichi Prefecture, and have already stopped toilet users from leaving items behind.
However, inventors say that – as the sensor responds to pieces of toilet paper and bugs – its detection ability needs to be further improved.