The bathroom is likely the last room of the house to embrace the digital world — even though in many homes the bathroom is turning into something closer to spa than water closet. As this room becomes a place for refuge and relaxation, the possibilities for digital improvement multiply. Here’s a quick look at what’s available now, and a few interesting new twists on the near horizon.
Let’s start with a basic: the faucet. The touchless infrared-actuated faucets that are increasingly common in public restrooms are now beginning to show up in the home. Besides convenience, the makers tout these for preventing the spread of germs as well as water conservation.
Smarthome.com features two versions of Autoluxe automatic faucets — one with adjustable water temperature, and another (for the kids’ bathroom) where the temperature is preset. Prices range from $329 to $439 and both install just the same way as a conventional faucet. They're battery powered (with an estimated year between changes) so no wiring is needed, although an AC adapter is also available. (If you want to be truly touchless, add the $24 Lentek automatic soap dispenser, also activated by a sensor that detects the presence of your outstretched hands.)
After faucets comes the toilet — or, more specifically, the toilet seat. The automatic electronic toilet seat, invented by the Japanese and now in about half of all Japanese homes, is making an appearance on U.S. shores and public opinion seems to be shifting from “ooooh, that’s weird” to “ooooh, that’s interesting.” These, of course, are the toilet seats that are not only pre-heated to your favorite temperature, but also wash and dry your nether regions with fully adjustable sprays selectable for both male and female needs. They often come with extras, such as remote controls or silent-closing mechanisms on the seats. In Japan, they've even started adding things like MP3 players and medical diagnostics. You can learn more about them by clicking here for an article by Gary Krakow .
On a far grander scale is the Acquinox line of standalone steam showers and massage tubs. These are fully self-contained glass, steel and fiberglass units that you simply place in a corner of your bathroom and hook up to the water supply, a drain and a 20 amp power line — no tearing out tile or remodeling walls. With variations that include a stream shower, or steam shower plus whirlpool tub, wet and dry saunas, rainfall shower heads and even chromotherapy (variously colored lights chosen for “healing properties”) these standalone spas range from $2600 to $11,200. And they come with fully digital control panels with integrated LCD television, FM radio and hands-free telephone. You’ll never have to leave the bathroom again! For cheaper ways to get that high-end "home spa" experience, click here for an article by Amy Norton .
If you don’t want to spend into the five figures to improve your bathroom ambience, you can at least upgrade the media experience. The classic shower radio has undergone considerable evolution as exemplified by the fully waterproof Sony ICFS79V with AM/FM/TV/weather band reception, a built-in digital clock and an auto-off timer that turns the radio off for you after a designated time. A step up, the Sony ICFD73V, adds a CD player. Often discounted, the Sony shower buddies run around $80 and $120.
If you’ve moved past CDs, then Sharper Image has the ingenious iSplash wireless ZipConnect splashproof speaker system. It uses a 900MHz transmitter to keep your iPod safe and dry, while sending the tunes to a waterproof speaker that hangs on the showerhead. The $99 iSplash will also work with any other MP3 player, satellite radio or anything with an audio output jack, but if you can’t live without video, the same Sharper Image folks also offer the $299 wireless, portable TV Shower Companion. As with the iSplash, a small transmitter unit plugs into your TV (or DVD or VCR) and broadcasts the signal to a 3.5” active matrix LCD television that, once again, dangles from the shower head.
The one other area where electronics have stealthily crept into the bathroom is on the floor: a whole new generation of high-style, high-technology scales that not only tell you your weight, but your body fat as well. A prime example of these stylish nags is the $69 Salter glass-platform body fat and water analyzer, the latter function a more recent wrinkle that makes sure you’re drinking enough water to maintain a healthy body. The scale also includes a memory, of course, so you can chart your progress. You can even add up to nine other users, so you can share it with your whole rowing team, too. You can learn more about high-end scales by clicking here for an article by John Roach .
The smart scales are a harbinger of the next gadget that will likely soon enter the bathroom: the network-connected health monitor. A Silicon Valley firm called Health Hero Networks is introducing, through doctors and hospitals, a line of health monitors for home use that act something like a visiting nurse, to track specific conditions like diabetes, asthma or heart trouble.
Connected via the Internet, the devices have small LCD screens that ask questions — “How are you feeling today?” — and then prompt the patient through whatever testing procedure is appropriate, such as taking blood sugar or testing lung function. The device asks more questions about how the patient is feeling and then sends on the results of the “visit” to the doctor for follow up. In a nation filled with aging boomers entering the Bermuda Triangle of health, the home health monitor may someday be the next must-have gadget. Maybe even bigger than the shower radio.
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints