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Startup of the Week: A $139 Internet of Things Toilet Cleaner With Voice Assistant

"Alexa, ask Sam to clean the toilet."

by Ashwin Rodrigues
Oct 31 2019, 3:16pm

Image: Shine Composition: Jason Koebler

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The pitch:

There’s an age-old query: What if your toilet could clean itself and also talk to you? Shine Bathroom is the only company brave enough to ask this question. It is currently showing off a prototype of a $139 smart toilet cleaning device that comes embedded with a voice assistant that works when paired with other voice assistants, who, unfortunately, has a name (it’s Sam.)

The translucent and white plastic device, which looks like a home speaker (check it for an internal mic!) uses two sensors, one of which attaches to an external water line, and another that goes inside the toilet bowl. You fill the assistant with tap water, add a salt tablet and then Shine cleans your toilet with electrolyzed water, the same method used in Japan to clean sushi preparation areas, Shine explains in its Indiegogo campaign video. Of course, it wouldn’t be a venture-backed startup if it didn’t leverage Artificial Intelligence and have a soft glowing light, a mobile application, and proprietary subscription tablets to gather some residual income (it’s like a Juicero, but a toilet!)

What problem does it solve?

There is a thing that sometimes happens when a startup releases a device, and the public’s knee-jerk reaction is, more or less, “haha, that’s stupid.” But then more compassionate people explain this thing is solving a real problem for some people, and you just weren’t able to see it because all you think about is yourself.

This Shine Bathroom Assistant doesn’t really appear to be that. The Shine Bathroom is meant for people who want a clean bathroom but don’t want to touch a toilet brush, and who also want to talk to their toilets. Also, Shine claims that its sensors can detect leaks before they become large problems, which according to Shine is the cause of up to a trillion gallons of lost water from US households per year. So the company, which, to reiterate, is selling a hunk of plastic and a salt pod subscription mail service, is trying to make an environmentalism sell here, too.

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Shine unfairly claims “the bathroom hasn’t changed in a century, even though we have.” I’m not sure how we’ve changed in this century. Have humans gained or lost a collective anus during this time? To claim such a lack of toilet innovation is a slight against the approximately 140 year old American Standard company, a bathroom appliance and fixture producer whose mission is “improving daily living with innovations that elevate.” Such innovations include the Vormax toilet with its clean flushing system, and the spalet toilet cover which adds bidet functionality to the throne, both developed within the last century. Also, the Squatty Potty.

Who is giving it money?

Regular people! They have thus far raised a total of $355,000 for the toilet device on Indiegogo. Shine Bathroom also raised $750,000 in a seed round led by Entrada Ventures and the aptly named Mucker Capital. Though its Indiegogo campaign could be a test to see if Shine Bathroom can go direct-to-consumer (you can imagine the podcast ads now), one of the Shine founders, Chris Herbert, has also posited the question, “IOT in your Hotel Bathroom?” in a Medium post. This would make sense, as Shine could then move in bulk, and perhaps lonely business travelers can find some companionship by speaking to their AI-integrated toilet accessory.

What are The Experts saying?

TechCrunch :

“The longer-term vision is to apply technology and science to rethink the whole bathroom to put less strain on our natural resources, and to use it in a way that lines up with what we want to do as consumers, using this first product to test that market.

‘Bathrooms are evolving from places where we practice basic hygiene to where we prepare ourselves for the day,’ said Chris Herbert, the founder and CEO of Shine. ‘Wellness and self care will be happening more in the home, and this is a big opportunity.’

Digital Trends :

“There’s probably no chore that is more disgusting than cleaning the toilet. If you hate polishing the porcelain throne, then there’s good news. Shine Bathroom Assistant, the automated toilet cleaning and maintenance bot, is now a thing.”

Should you buy it?

If you get a thrill by imagining yourself triggering your Amazon Echo device to trigger your Shine Bathroom assistant by saying, “Alexa, tell Sam to clean my toilet” this device is for you. As it stands currently, there is no other device that will respond back to you, “Okay, I’m cleaning your toilet.”

Sam, the Shine Bathroom assistant, is for brazenly optimistic people. The brazen optimism is required for these people to believe this poop cleaning company will remain in business for eternity, or until we’ve innovated ourselves out of using a toilet. These people are also optimistic that they can solve any toilet issue by themselves or with the help of a professional conferencing in via video call.

The beginning of the Shine Bathroom Assistant video claims that “even a simple fix warrants a call to an expensive plumber.” If there is an issue with your toilet, the Shine Bathroom Assistant will notify you and tell you how to fix it. You can be walked through the repair process via free video support and repair kits, which will likely messy experience and/or require a professional. The video support could be focused on providing emotional support, but Shine does not make that clear.

Shine is “reinventing the bathroom” with a supplementary toilet cleaning device and accompanying mobile app. It’s like the 1999 Disney movie Smart House. In this sci-fi movie, a family wins a computerized house, which in turn develops an overbearing personality that endangers the family. This is all a result of the son, Ben, reprogramming the house to replace the family’s late mother, to disastrous results. Shine wants to create a bathroom experience “that anticipates our needs, conforms to our wants, and delivers the care we deserve,” which sounds an awful lot like Smart House.

If you’re really in a pinch and want to feel like you’re getting advice from a toilet algorithm, you can simulate the experience yourself by checking out “toilet repair” on YouTube.

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