ORLANDO, Fla. — In bathroom heaven, all the toilets swish themselves clean after every use and faucetless "smart sinks" deliver controlled amounts of soap and water.
All routine bathroom functions, even drying and drinking, are accomplished without touching a single button, lever or handle.
Utility bills plunge with reduced water and water-heating demands. There is less strain on the environment. Public restrooms no longer stink, flood or visually repulse.
And supervisors in hospitals and restaurants reduce the spread of disease by monitoring employees' responses to recommended health habits. For in bathroom heaven, the sinks count the number of times they are used.
High-tech hygiene has arrived on Earth in the three-pronged entrepreneurial collaboration of an epidemiologist, a former defense contractor engineer and an inventor with a background in plumbing.
"What we have here is a plumbing revolution," said Dan Shaw, the technician behind the automatic fixtures, as he gestured around his working laboratory in the offices of Bauer Industries.
Flushomatic urinals and toilets, leverless drinking fountains and sinks that gurgle forth on cue are much more than gadgetry, although in an era of TV remote control, bathroom wizardry has a sort of couch potato appeal.
Disease control is the major goal of the fixtures regulating how long one's hands are washed and eliminating the need to touch sinks, toilets and drinking fountains.
The medical community has long lamented the problem of nosocomial infection, or diseases acquired during hospital stays. It is estimated that 6% of all hospital patients contract such an infection.
Nosocomial infections not only can kill, but the cost of such diseases has been estimated at $10 billion per year.
"The simple task of going from patient to patient within the hospital--such as changing the sheets, moving the linens--puts bacteria on your skin, which is transient bacteria that can be washed off," said Dr. Lee Adler, a specialist in infectious disease who is Bauer Industries' medical director.
Yet published studies show as few as 30% of doctors and only about 60% of nurses comply with hand-washing guidelines calling for, among other things, a 10-second scrub after each patient contact.
"Contact spread via the hands of hospital personnel is a major mode of transmission of nosocomial infections. Consequently, handwashing is considered the single most important procedure in preventing these infections," said an article published in the medical journal Infection Control.
"Our market today is commercial--those places that use a lot of hand washing and need to consume water and have some concern about touching handles," Shaw said.
"Hospitals have a genuine concern with their requirements about washing. At restaurants, gas stations and rest stops we all have a concern because that's just how it is."
The patented Bauer fixtures, still lacking a catchy trade name, spring into action when an adjustable infrared beam is broken by some object, such as a hand. The beam passes through a panel of bullet-proof plastic surrounded by a chrome-plated brass housing.
In the demonstration lab sink, beams activate the water when an object, such as a pair of hands, is placed in the basin. Merely standing in front of the sink does not bring forth water.
A 30-second "time out" cycle is incorporated to halt the flow before a sink can overflow because, Shaw said, "we assume this is going to be used in high schools and rest areas and people are going to do everything they can" to tamper with the device.
Tank toilets and urinals don't flush if the infrared beam is broken only briefly. But if the beam detects a user--a body in place for an appropriate time--flushing begins when the body moves away, timing the flush to preclude the annoying "splash factor" experienced with other automatic toilets.
Toilet flushes can be delayed for up to three minutes, a feature President Al Bauer said makes the system ideal for use in jails. Prisoners would be unable to either dispose of contraband during surprise inspections or jam their toilets with bedding to flood their cells in acts of vandalism.
The sensor housing fits into existing holes in any standard sink, toilet, urinal, drinking fountain, shower or air-blowing hand dryer, easing the process of retrofitting existing fixtures.
Prototypes of the devices have worked flawlessly in about 20 public rest rooms for 10 months at the Polynesian Village Resort Hotel at nearby Walt Disney World.
Fixture manufacturers are negotiating to produce the Bauer product line. Bauer said the manufacturers believe that conventional products are now obsolete. A local hospital has also ordered more than 1,000 of the sensors for testing.
The February opening of a Coalition for the Homeless temporary shelter in Orlando marked the first full line installation of Bauer products.
County officials assessed the shelter a $15,000 impact fee, based on 75 people each using a projected 90 gallons of water a day, but the new devices have kept consumption well below those forecasts.
"With our system we haven't been able to get them past 30 gallons," Bauer said.