Smart Toilet: A Disruptive Technology to Improve Health and Wellness (2019-2020)

Applications for this project team are open and will be reviewed on a rolling basis. The deadline to apply is March 8 at 5:00 p.m.


Precision health is an emerging area of research aimed at transforming medicine and healthcare by leveraging digital connectivity and new technologies such as phone apps, wearables and smart textiles. Achieving the goals of precision health using digital connectivity will require novel approaches to daily monitoring of analytical biomarkers from physiological fluids, which currently cannot be achieved using noninvasive approaches.

Our daily excreta, feces and urine, are rich in latent data and a greatly under-utilized source for precision health monitoring. The Duke University Center for WaSH-AID (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Infectious Disease) is developing a device for the hands-off extraction and packaging of human excreta so that the sample can be used for diagnosis of wellness and disease. This Duke “Smart Toilet” is a novel platform with the potential to transform healthcare as a noninvasive source of individualized biological data that can be used for early disease detection, surveillance for infectious disease and continuous personalized health and wellness monitoring.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will focus on the engineering development, quality control, refinement and business and regulatory strategy of the Duke Smart Toilet platform. This effort will include both technical and entrepreneurial activities in order to prepare this unique technology for translation from the lab to the market.

To do accomplish these aims, the project team will:

  1. Carry out proof-of-concept bioanalytical evaluation of the quality of specimens obtained from prototype, using clinical assays such as occult blood or C. difficile (an enteric infection) and microbiome studies through the Duke microbiome core.
  2. Focus on the engineering refinement of the prototype system according to the requirements of the assays described above.
  3. Focus on the identification of the markets and use cases for this technology, specifically installation location such as in hospital rooms, long-term care facility or personal residences. To do this, the team will also focus on the regulatory landscape and other approvals for pilot testing within Duke, including researching building codes and requirements for FDA approval.

Anticipated Outputs

Prototype for data collection; papers for publication; grant applications

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this team will be comprised of 6-9 undergraduates and 2 graduate students.

Graduate students will be sought from engineering, biology and medicine. We are particularly looking for Master of Engineering Management students to help mentor undergraduates.

Undergraduates may come from a wide variety of backgrounds from engineering to biology to entrepreneurship. This project will most likely align with the interests and expertise of students in the natural sciences and on a pre-med track, but we also seek students who are studying business and the social sciences, as well as students who have hands-on mechanical skills.

At the project outset, team members will be broken into three subteams that will focus on the three specific aims of the project: 1) engineering, 2) medicine/biology and 3) business/regulatory.  Each subteam will be managed by a graduate student and overseen by a team leader.

All students will be exposed to a broad set of knowledge and skills required for the development and translation of a biomedical technology and learn communication skills for collaborative work across disciplines and reporting to a group. Subteams will receive instruction in additional task-specific areas.

Lectures will include (but are not limited to) basic principles of applied bioengineering (e.g., safety procedures for operation in a BSL-2 facility, IRB requirements for human subject research and privacy for the collection of human specimens for research) and biospecimen and biomarkers analysis (e.g., microbiome analysis). Students will also be exposed to introductory elements of QIIME2, the open source software utilized for statistical analysis of the microbiome results. The lectures in business and regulatory approaches to technology commercialization will include a diverse set of instructors, including for example, a lecture from the Duke Office of Licensing and Ventures about technology innovation.

There is an optional summer component for Summer 2020. Selected students would continue activities defined by the outcomes of the previous two semesters.


Fall 2019 – Summer 2020

  • Fall 2019: Begin monthly meetings with entire group and more frequent subteam meetings; begin background reading assignments; develop engineering prototype v.1.0; begin occult blood/clinical biomarker and microbiome analysis feasibility; research customer discovery and regulatory environment
  • Spring 2020: Identify location for pilot installation; continue occult blood/clinical biomarker and microbiome analysis; develop engineering prototype v2.0
  • Summer 2020 (Optional): Continue engineering, medicine/biology and business/regulatory tasks as needed


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

To Apply

Students can apply using our online application. Applications are due by March 8 at 5:00 p.m.

This Team in the News

Duke Researchers Working to Create ‘Smart Toilet’

Researchers' New 'Smart Toilet' Helps Pull Health Info from Poop

Fecal Matters: Learning about Health through Waste


Image: Katie Sellgren and colleagues, courtesy of Center for WaSH-AID

Katie Sellgren and colleagues.

Team Leaders

  • Geoffrey Ginsburg, School of Medicine
  • Sonia Grego, Pratt School of Engineering-Electrical & Computer Engineering
  • Katelyn Sellgren, Pratt School of Engineering-Electrical & Computer Engineering

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Holly Dressman, School of Medicine-Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
  • Jeffrey Glass, Pratt School of Engineering-Electrical & Computer Engineering
  • Brian Stoner, Pratt School of Engineering-Electrical & Computer Engineering

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Douglas Calahan, Argo Systems
  • Eric Levitan, Argo Systems