How much automation is too much automation? Flushed Away

So you’re sitting there, relaxed, doing your own business. You don’t even have a wide leg stance, when suddenly the toilet flushes beneath you. Why did that happen? You aren’t finished yet, which means another flush is going to be needed. Did your elbow trigger the sensor? Trying to complete your paperwork the bloody toilet flushes again. Not only is the overactive flush mechanism wasteful of water but also of paper- you need extra to dry your freshly “rinsed” privates-a poor man’s bidet. You walk out of the cubicle and everything is automated – soap pump, hot water tap, hand drier, towel dispenser. One of these days you’re going to walk into the “john” and a disembodied American voice, with a relatively pleasant mid-West twang, is going to ask: “would you like me to hold that for you, sir?” i wonder which would be most disturbing- a male or female robot assistant, or one with no discernable gender?

Obviously hygiene is very important in our age of global travel, but isn’t water consumption? The sensors on the taps are evidently designed to conserve water, as well as keep your hands clean. The soap too. Hand towels-I am happy to use the “elbow crank.” All in all though toilet service automation strategies tend to confuse me. Perhaps someone familiar with Japanese toilet automation can tell – what’s up with that?

In IT we talk a lot about automating paper processes. But the hand dryer is a fine example, in my opinion, of unneccessary automation. i will take a paper towel (recycled of course) every time…

The real point I want to make here-cutting the deal, as it were, is that all automation decisions involve tradeoffs, not all of which are beneficial. The green lens is another one to consider when making process automation design decisions.


Weirdly, according to TedsBlog on Flickr this is a toilet at Google Corp. Deodorizer – enough said.



  1. Joshua Marinacci says

    I don’t think automation is bad, it just has to be done well. I have hated every form of automation I’ve seen in American bathrooms, but I have also seen some great innovation in Japanese bathrooms. They have a hand dryer that you put your hands *into* rather than *under*. This dries your hands much faster (saving energy), while also preventing the dryer from splattering water onto the floor or your pants. (which also saves energy needed to wash the floor more often).

    Automation isn’t the problem. The problem is bad design!