I remember, several years ago, when I first encountered the hands-free faucet.
It was in an airport bathroom and after a few failed attempts at moving my soapy hands in front of the sensor to get the faucet to dispense some water, I casually remarked to the woman at the sink next to me who was experiencing the same difficulty, “who decided we could no longer turn a faucet on for ourselves?” Of course, since then I’ve had many opportunities to embrace the world of hands-free public bathroom fixtures and the germ-free, or less germy, promise they offer: faucets, paper towel dispensers, toilets. Luckily, however, short of the stall door and toilet tissue dispensers, there doesn’t seem to be anything practical left to automate in the bathroom. Or is there?
Step in the good people who gave us the Porsche with yet another fine example of German engineering. The Toilet Seat Comprising a Means for Spreading the Buttocks, or international patent application WO02069773 , is the brainchild of Lang Georg Oswald. That’s right, somehow Mr. Oswald arrived at the conclusion that this most private of bathroom actions was simply too difficult for us to perform ourselves. So the next reasonable question that comes to mind is this: if we can’t spread our own butt cheeks, is it possible we can’t clean ourselves either? Yuck!
According to the European Patent Office, The invention aims to facilitate defaecation for the user in a simple, comfortable manner [and] preventing soiling in the area around the anus when defaecating. Means which are actuated (slide apart) by the weight of the user are provided for spreading the buttocks of the user during the defecation process. Talk about coming in at the end and taking all the glory!
The invention does not consider other practical matters that make defecating difficult, like that three-alarm chili burrito you ate the night before; it just makes the burrito’s exit a little less taxing. The way I see it, if the burrito is in the exit process at all then the hard work of defecating is already done!
Yet Oswald’s invention continued to weigh heavily on my mind since I stumbled upon it in my research. Why a buttock spreader? Had Lang uncovered a niche market, or did he simply invent something for the sake of inventing it without any concerns for real world applications? If there is a market for this device then the item seems somewhat practical. It’s probably cost effective, easily installed, and thanks to the privacy of the Internet and public bathroom stalls, not too embarrassing to buy and use. But is there a market for such a thing?
According to the National Center of Health Statistics, the National Health And Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of 1999-2002 found that 65% of Adults living in the United States are overweight or obese. Lang’s patent was issued on September 12, 2002. Coincidence?
It is well known that overweight and obese people struggle with all manner of hygiene problems in the area of defecating. Often, the additional folds of skin present on the overweight or obese body obstruct the elimination process all together. In addition, the girth of this body-type can prevent a person’s access to the region in question for both assisting the elimination process, and cleaning up the mess afterwards. Step in Lang’s toilet seat. While the seat won’t clean you (there are other things on the market for that) it will help you get to the point where you need to be cleaned — the inevitable conclusion of the three-alarm chili burrito’s journey through your digestive system.
Therefore, with a U.S. market share of 65% at the time of the patent, plus indicators that Europe is slowly beginning to follow our lead in this disturbing trend, a buttock spreader makes perfect sense from a simple supply and demand standpoint. Sure, it’s not as dignified as say a diet pill or a new piece of exercise equipment. Nor is it as elegant as devising a new technique for use in bariatric surgery. But hey, it’s practical!
At the time of its release, the NHANES of 1999-2002 revealed that the number of overweight and obese American adults was up 16% from the previous survey period of 1988-1994. These alarming figures resulted in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlining a national health objective for 2010 that included, among other things, the reduction in the prevalence of obesity among adults to less than 15 percent. Unfortunately, the data suggests that the CDC’s efforts are failing and that the incidence of obesity in the United States is on the rise. All this makes the buttock spreading toilet seat not just practical, but a matter of national importance!
When I consider all this in the context of that day several years ago when, annoyed and frustrated in that airport bathroom I couldn’t wash my own hands at will, I think of my comment to the anonymous woman standing next to me and the obvious answer that eluded us both that day. Who decided we could no longer perform a simple act for ourselves? The answer is: we did.
* * * * *
Elizabeth Valeri, our guest blogger, is a resident of Colorado with an interest in the material abundance of everyday life. That is, she is amused by the ways we “over-invent” our lives in a fleeting attempt at controlling them. She wanted to share some of her wacky patent finds with the readers of InventorSpot.com.