Is the toilet free?

Here at Pi Towers, we are lucky enough to have more toilets than we have people. Some offices don’t. And it’s embarrassing to hear your colleagues micturating (at least for some people – the rest of us chatter through it all and make fun of each other’s shy bladders), so the guys at Made by Many have come up with a Pi-based solution.

It started quite simply. Reed switches on a toilet door would send information to a Pi, which would publish the data to a website, so the folks at Made by Many could check online before going to the loo. They made a LEGO prototype to make sure everything worked.

LEGO

And after applying the switches to the real toilet doors, they ended up with the real thing serving up a result like this when the website was polled.

isthetoiletfreewebpage

Of course, it’s axiomatic that if you can overcomplicate something, you should.

So the Made by Many team started looking at what data they could collect without invading people’s lavatorial privacy (with a privacy document being uploaded to GitHub). No identifying information or information about exactly what was going on in the cubicle was collected at any time.  Over three weeks they ended up with sufficient data points to work some SQL magic and be able to detect:

  • if the toilets are free
  • the total number of visits
  • minimum visit duration
  • maximum visit duration
  • average visit duration
  • total visits by hour
  • total visits by day

From which they could infer:

  • the office’s favourite toilet
  • peak times
  • off-peak times
  • an estimated wait time.

And then they made a command-line-style stats page.

statspage

And because a job half-done is no job at all, they also made a little toilet notifier to live in the menu bar in Mac OS.

toiletosx

They’ve made LED signs. They’ve irritated their colleagues so much that one of them dismantled and abducted one of the reed switches. They’ve demonstrated elegantly that the Internet of Things is always informative, and not always as useful as we think it is. We think this is one of the most entertaining projects we’ve seen in a while. We salute you, Made by Many. And if you’ll excuse me, I drank rather too much coffee after lunch. I’ll just be a minute.