Home Tech Editor, Tech AdvisorJAN 4, 2023 1:00 am GMT
Withings is launching U-Scan, the first hands-free home urine analysis lab. You might call it streaming technology. Apologies, but this is a lot to deal with at the start of January.
In the company’s own words, the device is a “miniaturized health lab that hygienically sits within any toilet bowl to unlock the wealth of health information in daily urine”. While we might take issue with the idea that anything sits hygienically in a toilet bowl, what they mean is that you’re freed from the mess and hassle of collecting and testing samples yourself.
The U-scan itself is a pebble-shaped reader, 90mm in diameter, fitted with a removable cartridge which contains a number of testing pods. When a sensor inside the device detects urine in the inlet, a pump moves the sample into a microfluidic circuit for analysis. Results are sent to the accompanying app via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
The cartridge and battery last for three months. Once a urine sample has been collected and analysed, it’s ejected, the cartridge rotates to present a fresh analysis pod, and the entire device is cleaned with a toilet flush.
The technology took four years to develop and involved 13 groups of patent applications.
Use, price and availability
The device and the first consumer cartridges will launch in Europe in the second quarter of 2023. It’s awaiting FDA approval before a planned US launch.
As you might expect for a little lab in a toilet bowl, its price is steep. A starter kit, containing one device and a cartridge that lasts three months will cost €499.95. After this, users can opt for a cartridge subscription or buy cartridges on a one-off basis direct from Withings. We don’t yet know the price of an individual cartridge.
There are two consumer cartridge options available for launch, although more are planned for the future. The U-Scan Cycle Sync is for women’s monthly cycle tracking, and the U-Scan Nutri Balance will analyse hydration and nutrition. Both will send data to an accompanying app that will display data insights and analysis.
Of the two, we think the Nutri Balance might be a harder sell. It will deliver information on fluid and water balance, protein and vegetable balance, ketone levels and vitamin C levels. It’s nice to have – especially for athletes – but it’s not really crucial information. And five hundred Euros is a lot for the average person to shell out for information they don’t need.
While still niche, the U-Scan Cycle Sync could be a real boon for women trying to conceive. As well as the nutritional readings, it will monitor hormonal changes to precisely chart the menstrual cycle, predict ovulation times, track symptoms and let users optimise their diet for hormone levels. If it’s as accurate as Withings is suggesting, it would be much more reliable than ovulation sticks. And, if it could take the place of other pricey fertility trackers and aids, it would be much more financially appealing.
Of course, the U-Scan involves the collection of extremely personal data and Withings is keen to state that it follows GDPR, which it describes as “the most demanding privacy regulation” and that it complies with the highest security standards in the handling and transmission of personal data.
Medical market use
Meanwhile, the brand’s business to business division, Withings Health Solutions, is developing the U-Scan for medical markets. So far, it has partnered with the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris, where it was used to help plan follow-up treatment for patients with kidney stones. A second collaboration with the Institut Curie, for ovarian and bladder cancer patients, is also underway.
The cartridge available to medical professionals can currently monitor pH, ketones, vitamin C, albumin, creatinine and specific gravity (the concentration of urine) but Withings’ chemistry teams can work with doctors to create other measurements. It has a number of potential applications, from clinical trials to home monitoring – once it has achieved regulatory approval.
This is another step towards Withings becoming a holistic medical technology brand and bridge between patients and medical professionals, rather than just a maker of home fitness devices. Its Body Scan smart scale, launched this time last year, also gives ECG measurements and US users can share readings with their doctors via Withings’ RPM (remote patient monitoring system).
The U-Scan will launch in Europe in the second quarter of 2023, priced at €499.95 with Nutri Balance and Cycle Sync cartridges available.
The questions raised by this technology are legion. But the first one for us is this: if a guest uses your bathroom, are you in danger of getting a pop-up notification of their urine analysis? Second – how are they demonstrating the U-Scan at CES? Journalists are usually offered a hands-on but I don’t want to think what the equivalent could be.
Right now, the best way to keep track of your fitness at home is via a smart scale. Have a look at our round-up of the best smart scales we’ve tested, which includes a device from Withings.
Emma is Home Tech Editor at Tech Advisor. She covers everything from kitchen appliances to smart home devices, from floor care to personal care to air care technology. She’s particularly interested in environmentally conscious brands and products that save people time and money.