electronics, automation and efficiency
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electronics, automation and efficiency 22 Jan 2013 07:14 #3188

  • RowanBarber
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I live in a first world, sub-tropical city: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

On 24 December 2012, my Scandinavian dishwasher broke down (again).

It is the third time a circuit board has burnt out. I suspect there is a dodgy gasket or seal, somewhere in the machine, that has been allowing moisture into the electronics. The manufacturer has kindly agreed to replace the machine.

However, the replacement machine is being imported from Scandinavia to Australia.

The net impact is I am manually washing my dishes every day until the replacement machine . Washing them in the sink, in hot, sudsy water, just like we used to do as kids. Washing dishes in the sink and draining them on a dish rack, them wiping them dry with a tea towel.

It is time consuming way to wash dishes. It is inefficient. Manually washing dishes in a sink, uses a lot more water then washing them in a dishwasher. It is energy intensive. It is not as effective.

My kitchen has numerous appliances. A kettle. A toaster. A refrigerator. A food processor. Hot plates. A convection oven. A microwave oven. As I wash the dishes, in the sink, my mind turns to Toilet 2.0 technologies.

I use various 21 century, automated machines in the kitchen but apart from my electric toothbrush, I am still using technology from the last century in my bathroom: Bath, shower, sink, toilet.

....and it makes me wonder:

Why have electronics and automation transformed my kitchen, my laundry, my lounge room and my garage, while my bathroom has been left behind? I have read with interest in George(2008) about hitech Japanese toilets. I wonder if we pushed the boundaries on toilet technologies beyond the current paradigm, could we find more appropriate technologies.

The sewer network in my city is currently being upgraded following a complete failure during the Brisbane floods in january 2011. All the pumping stations are getting new switchboards and being connected to scada systems with automated level controls and variable speeed drives etc.

However the user interfaces remain quite archaic. My toilet is a ceramic pedestal, p trap, dual flush toilet. It uses about 3 litres for a half flush and 6 litres for a full flush.

The slurry is mixed with grey water from shower and from my kitchen sink and conveyed over 30 kilometres to a sewage treatment plant, where they attempt to segregate the mixture with complicated physical and biologial processes. Perhaps the whole system needs a re-think.


Reference:
George, R (2008) The Big Necessity: Adventures in the World of Human Waste Portobello Books Ltd
Rowan Barber
Australian Sustainable Business Group
Engineers Without Borders Australia
Last Edit: 22 Jan 2013 07:51 by muench.
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Re: electronics, automation and efficiency 22 Jan 2013 11:38 #3192

  • JKMakowka
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For sewer systems a modernized vacuum system would probably be a good idea in many areas, both to save water, lower costs of construction and protecting the ground from waste-water seepage. This could include "modern" vacuum toilets in your bathroom as well.

Decentralized communal biogas plants in densely populated areas would be probably also a good idea. Those could collect sewerage and bio-waste from a few households and in turn supply the connected houses with gas for heating and cooking.

Otherwise, well there isn't really that much that can be automatized in a bathroom. Just like your kitchen doesn't have a feeding automaton, it's not really practical to automate personal hygiene.
Besides... you also have a hot water boiler, a hair dryer, the mentioned electric tooth-brush, an electric razor, an automatic fan to remove moisture and smells from an indoor bathroom etc. so it is quite automated already.
Krischan Makowka
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” - Buckminster Fuller
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Re: electronics, automation and efficiency 22 Jan 2013 12:41 #3193

  • RowanBarber
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Thanks Julius,

I am just thinking about how rudimentary and poorly designed my conventional Australian toilet is.

Functionally, my toilet is just a user interface, that connects me to a sewer network and (eventually) some downstream processing.

There seems to be a lot more thought going into the design of my tooth brush, than the design of my toilet. The dual flush system is a modern refinement but there is little to distinguish my toilet from early British designs of the last century.

My toilet pedestal is the wrong height. The ergonomics are flawed, unless one is particularly tall.

It does not self clean itself, like my food processor does.

It requires copious amounts of water (either rainwater or potable water) to function.


"you also have a hot water boiler, a hair dryer, the mentioned electric tooth-brush, an electric razor, an automatic fan to remove moisture and smells from an indoor bathroom etc. "

The hot water system is solar thermal.

My hair dyer is a towel.

My razor is a blade.
Rowan Barber
Australian Sustainable Business Group
Engineers Without Borders Australia

Re: electronics, automation and efficiency 22 Jan 2013 20:05 #3201

  • JKMakowka
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Sound to me like you bought the cheapest bowl 20 years ago.
If you buy from an expensive modern ceramic bowl, you will have Formular 1 engine grade ceramics, lotus anti stick nano surface layer and countless man-hours invested into hydrologically modeling the optimal flush pattern to minimize stains and water useage. In other words a modern marvel of technology, that happens to look like the 100 year old design at first glance (retro is cool again though).

Regarding the other washroom technology... well if you choose to stay low tech, don't complain about missing technology in your bathroom
Krischan Makowka
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” - Buckminster Fuller
Last Edit: 22 Jan 2013 20:06 by JKMakowka.

Re: electronics, automation and efficiency 23 Jan 2013 00:49 #3203

  • jkeichholz
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Hi Rowan,
I like your post and the rhetoric question about the interface and why a lot of the stuff that surrounds us is already automated, while many toilets are still low-tech.

RowanBarber wrote:
I wonder if we pushed the boundaries on toilet technologies beyond the current paradigm, could we find more appropriate technologies.


I also once covered this question in a blog post @ saniblog.org/2011/01/05/the-reptilian-code-of-toilets/ where I asked myself why people in Japan would invest in a high-tech toilet seat while the rest of the world doesn't live up to that standard.
I do have a few answers to that peculiar Japanese consumer behaviour (which includes Rose George's argument where she wrote that it is also related to missing heating systems, so the toilet seat is a warmer place), but for the rest of the world it just seems to be a matter of priorities (she also wrote that slum dwellers prioritize).

Talking of user interfaces, we are of course reminded of the Eawag/EOOS approach: www.eawag.ch/forschung/sww/gruppen/rttc/index_EN which looks like a a step in the right direction. Creating sexy toilet systems (like electronic toothbrushes, for instance) certainly is the way forward. I'd even go as far and ask for anything that will support the flush & forget mentality (because humans will never change on this) and work as hassle-free as a washing machine or a dish washer.

I also still like to compare this to cars: you can drive a Mercedes or BMW while a Nissan pickup or Dacia (Renault) pickup or even public transport will get you from A to B. Same with manual dish washing, manual washing machines, manual toothbrushes and so on. So why is your Australian toilet still too manual? Probably because there are too few sellers and no real demand for an upgraded version. Creating this demand on the consumer side will probably change priorities for decent sanitation on a global level.
Juergen Eichholz
watsan eng.
water, sanitation, IT & knowledge management
www.saniblog.org
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Re: electronics, automation and efficiency 23 Jan 2013 03:25 #3205

  • RowanBarber
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Thanks Juergen,

My rhetorical questions arise, since my Municipality is investing in the most sophisticated technologies like programmable logistic controllers, switchboards, supervisory control and data acquisition, telemetry etc in the sewer networks in Brisbane to automate the existing infrastructure, while the interfaces remain much the same.

At some point, I would like to see a complete paradigm shift.

If we are to overcome the "flush and forget" mentality, perhaps we need a new user interface.
Rowan Barber
Australian Sustainable Business Group
Engineers Without Borders Australia
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