Toilet Tuesday: The GARV public toilet

Toilet Tuesday Sep 22, 2020

For a change, today's toilet is not from the 80s!


What?

The GARV toil... sorry, "Smart Sanitation Centres" are futuristic-looking public and communal toilets, supposedly indestructible, closely monitored by sensors, and with an attractive business model. Cool or what?

The sanitation world's answer to the Tesla Cybertruck, except it doesn't break. By James Martin/CNET

Tell me more

Public toilets are like bees: essential for us, but threatened with extinction. Every year, alarming reports show a decline in their numbers. They are usually killed off by their inability to turn a profit, which is a sin these days: either spend a fortune cleaning and maintaining it, or it will be trashed, abused and dirtied beyond your wildest nightmares.

There are few answers to this:

  1. Realise that you will suffer if people pee everywhere (or worse), accept that you will make a loss, and make it part of something bigger – like in shopping malls.
  2. Prevent poor people from accessing it Charge a fee to cover some of your costs and double down on cleaning.
  3. Make your toilet indestructible.

This last approach is what was chosen by Mayank and Megha Midha when they co-founded GARV ("Dignity") in 2015. It's not new: the wonderful toilet advocates of PHLUSH in Portland have been promoting some good public toilet design principles for a while. GARV takes this to another level.

In contrast to Sulabh's more classic brick-and-mortar establishments, GARV's toilets can be made of galvanised steel ("Galva" toilet) or stainless steel ("Stainless Sparkle"), and are pre-fabricated and modular – you can choose how many you want and how to assemble them. They are often paired with a launderette, showers, a water kiosk, and/or dispensers for menstrual products. All of this makes good business sense; add some advertising space and you can almost break even!

There's about one thousand of these in India, which isn't bad for a recent startup; ad they are now expanding to Ghana and Nigeria. Yes, please.

Terraced toilets. From GARV's website

Is there a catch?

The real feature setting the Garv toilets apart is the word "smart". About half of GARV's toilets come with a few sensors to check if you have entered the toilet and then exited it, so that it can clean itself after each usage and turn the lights off. The toilet also records whether you washed your hands, how much water you have used, and so on. Which, granted, can be useful to monitor public health.

If Doctor Who had a toilet, it could look like that... from Rob Rodriguez/CNET

This is getting some people very excited, for instance in the Toilet Board Coalition, which has been going on about the Digitisation of Sanitation for a few years. Peel a few layers of jargon, remove Blockchain-Leveraging Internet of Things and other fashionable nonsense, and you find... not that much. Smart toilets may cost less in the long run; they may reduce vandalism; they may help public health. It's hard to tell.

They may also become quite creepy: given the choice, a lot of people don't want Alexa in their shower, or get a monthly biopsy when you put on your tampon.

When your enter a public toilet, though, you don't really choose what is tracked about you. And the most prosaic and most probable use of vast amounts of intimate data has so far been targeted advertising. Is it a price worth paying to use a public toilet? GARV isn't there. For now.

At least it can't be as creepy as the anus recognition toilet.

Verdict?

I love this public toilet. Just don't make it too smart, OK?


Credits

Cover image credits: Toilets in Gorakhpur from GARV's website
More information: This great CNET article
Suggestions welcome! Which tech should I review?

Tags