A depiction of the Throne bathroom interior for mobile workers. (Image above throne)
Amazon recently got caught in an unexpected PR mess when company officials claimed its employees would never have to resort to bottle urination.
The absurdity of the situation came to a head last week after it was quickly discovered that Amazon delivery drivers – not to mention Uber, UPS, and FedEx drivers – do in fact, regularly relieve stress while you are out and about. In a rare apology posted late Friday night, Amazon apologized for its snarky tweets and promised to address what it called the “longstanding, industry-wide problem.”
“We don’t know how yet, but we will look for solutions,” the company wrote in its apology.
Well, maybe Amazon’s potty help is just around the corner.
Amazon rarely apologizes, saying it will look for solutions for drivers who pee in bottles
Seattle-based CityBldr and DC-based Throne are about to launch a new high-tech toilet specifically designed to address the problem of Amazon ending up in hot water. Two startups with roots in Seattle and Washington, DC – whichever happens to be the hometowns of Amazon HQ1 and HQ2 – believe they have the right solution for drivers who need to leave (whether it’s a day 1 or a day 2).
Throne says it’s “hassle-free finding a clean bathroom in a few easy steps”. After the delivery drivers download the app, they can simply reserve a nearby Throne bathroom unit. The company notes that “we hold them so you don’t have to”.
Like the systems for unlocking ridesharing – think of the old ReachNow service in Seattle or the Lime offer for bikes and scooters – the app can then be used to unlock the bathroom so the user can “ascend your throne”.
Throne and CityBldr have big plans for the service, which in the early stages of the rollout by DC Throne founder and CEO Fletcher Wilson, tells GeekWire that the company is still in stealth mode but a “soft launch” for the DC Area plans this spring with a fuller start in the area this summer. He declined to name partners or disclose prices.
This isn’t just a challenge for Amazon. This issue affects many of our fastest growing employees, including ridesharing and grocery delivery drivers.
“This is not just a challenge for Amazon,” Wilson said in a press release. “This is an issue affecting many of our fastest growing employees, including ridesharing and grocery delivery drivers.”
Wilson, who suffers from gastrointestinal problems and has a degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, said he often needed a bathroom badly. After investigating the problem with ridesharing, he realized there was a greater opportunity in the market and started the company ten months ago.
“Everyone deserves a really nice bathroom,” Fletcher said, noting that Throne plans to use real-time cleanliness ratings from users, a range of sensors, and other data to help keep the toilets clean. Fletcher’s work as an Innovation Fellow at the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign will also prove useful, challenging the technical discipline.
Automated public toilets – or APTs as they are known in the industry – are not new. However, it has been difficult for businesses and cities to determine the cost equation. A report released last month, which is more common in Europe, estimated that the global “smart toilet” market was valued at approximately $ 5 billion last year, with growth expected in the years to come.
Seattle-based CityBldr, which uses machine learning to help developers, appraisers, city planners and others better understand property values, joined the project after Modica CEO William Gibbs Throne introduced CityBldr’s Bryan Copley.
Copley was intrigued and believed his company’s technology could help Throne find potential bathroom locations in cities. By using machine learning to identify potential websites, Copone Throne can gain an advantage in terms of speed and intelligence in a highly competitive marketplace.
In essence, Copley says they can help Throne start “every trip in the field target area versus your own 20-yard line”.
Creating a network of clean and aseptic public toilets is not an easy task, as the New York Times wrote last summer that public bathrooms tend to have a certain “ick factor”. There are regulatory issues as well, as many US cities have banned paid toilets.
In 2008, Seattle removed its five automated self-cleaning paid toilets after spending $ 5 million on the failed experiment. In Portland, Oregon, the city has had more success with the Portland Loo, a non-automated public toilet installed in 18 locations designed to reduce vandalism, prostitution, and drug use.
Avoiding regulatory obstacles and removing this Ick factor from the equation, especially during COVID-19, is a major challenge.
Again, Wilson doesn’t share much about how they’ll innovate, and shares with GeekWire that they hope to “take the first steps into a new market with great potential.”
“Finding answers to these questions about regulation, business model and scalability has been the main focus of our work so far and is at the core of what we cannot publicly share as we assume that this will be a competitive environment in the EU in the near future” , he said.