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    May 24, 2016

    A*star invention sniffs out dirty toilets

    RESEARCH engineers from the Agency for Science and Technology (A*Star) have invented and trialled a toilet-monitoring system that can signal when toilets need to be cleaned.

    It tracks how heavily rest-rooms are used and has a sensor to measure the odour levels of substances such as ammonia and hydrogen sulphide, which are present in urine and faeces respectively.

    The technology, known as the Restroom Visitilizer System, was on trial in more than 60 public toilets islandwide in the past two years, in places such as Marina Bay Sands (MBS) , the Singapore Zoo and River Safari.

    Toilets at nine food centres - such as those in Tiong Bahru, Maxwell and Serangoon Gardens - were included too.

    The system, developed in 2013, has now been licensed to Convergent Smart Technologies, a local small and medium-sized enterprise.

    Its director, Cedric Hoon, said it has received good reviews from cleaning contractors. It costs about $1,700 to $2,000 to install a set of sensors for two toilets.

    Dennis Quek, industry development manager at A*Star's Institute for Infocomm Research, said public toilets are typically cleaned at regular intervals several times a day, regardless of how frequently used they are.

    Some cleaning firms also act on complaints, most of which are about smell, he added.

    Mr Hoon noted that cleaners have a roster for them to physically check the toilets up to six times a day, leading to manpower wastage.

    Shopping malls' restrooms can be used by up to 300 people an hour. For those in food centres, the rate hovers at about 100 to 150 an hour.

    This new technology offers a "clean on demand" option allowing supervisors to deploy resources more efficiently, said Mr Quek.

    Across the toilets that had tested the system, there was a 30 per cent improvement in manpower productivity, he added.

    "One cleaner can take care of more toilets - some which aren't so heavily used - and he or she doesn't have to walk around to physically check the toilets," he explained.

    Instead, on-demand alerts can be sent by SMS to cleaners if a particular toilet needs immediate attention.

    To encourage more building owners to adopt the system, Convergent Smart Technologies signed an agreement this year with the Restroom Association (Singapore), or RAS.

    Emerson Hee, RAS' executive director, said it is urging building owners to adopt the technology to better maintain toilet cleanliness and meet higher standards, as part of its six-star rating it introduced in November 2014.

    An MBS spokesman said it is constantly looking at ways to improve productivity through the use of technology. It adopted the sensor system in 10 toilets and plans to install it in another 26 this year.

    A spokesman for the National University Hospital Kopitiam foodcourt, which installed the system in December last year, said it is a convenient way of obtaining "relevant real-time information" such as the usage and odour level in toilets.

    "This is essential for deployment of toilet cleaners and to monitor the amount of time they need to clean up, especially during periods of heavy usage," he added.