Are Stadium Bathroom Lines a Thing of the Past?

When you think of the Internet of Things, in which previously unconnected objects are linked to the Internet and to each other, you probably aren't thinking about how it might apply to the bathroom. But two key developments in the bathroom connectivity space (it’s actually a space) could change the way you, well, do the things you do in the bathroom. Think about it: have you ever been sitting at an event — maybe a sports game, maybe a concert – and had to dash to the restroom at what seems like a key moment only to find that there’s a massive line?

There are a few companies trying to solve that problem, chief among them VenueNext, which is outfitting the new San Francisco 49ers stadium with the fanciest in bathroom tech. It will use cameras scattered around the stadium to see how long the lines are for each restroom, and update an app in real time, so from your seat, you can simply pop open the app and see if it’s a good time to head out. (This will also work to tell you about the lines at concession stands.)

But all the knowledge of bathroom lines in the world won’t be of much help to you if you finally make your way to the bathroom and it’s filthy. Luckily, bathroom cleanliness is another area that can benefit from connectivity. A company called EuroTech, working with Intel, is one of the few on the forefront of connected toilets. In Terminal 2 of London’s Heathrow Airport, which recently opened, the toilets actually count the number of people who use them. That data can be used to alert janitors when the toilets need to be cleaned, but the sensors don’t stop there: they can also tell which toilets are being used more than others, and how long it takes customers to use them. That information could be used to better design bathroom layouts and locations: if there’s a bathroom that gets more foot traffic than others, maybe that would indicate that that particular location could use a few more toilets.

The obvious concern with this sort of new connectivity is in the privacy of users. Are those cameras monitoring the lines for beer or bathrooms, or the sensors in the urinals that say how long an individual stood there, really worth the loss in privacy? Do we really want companies knowing these kinds of private things about ourselves? It’s a question that’s hard to answer. Some are excited; this kind of technology would make the jobs of stadium and airport staff much easier.

“Operations staff is ecstatic because they can be at command post or walking around stadium getting alerts when thresholds are hit,” Tery Howard, chief technology officer for the Miami Dolphins, told NBC News. Some customers may not want quite so much personal information about themselves to be out and about, but many will find a negligible loss of privacy worth not missing an important moment at their next sports or concert outing because of an unexpected long line.