Widely known for its sleek smartwatches, Withings also shows up at CES every year with ambitious health gadgets. Last year it was a smart scale that could also take ECGs and segmented measurements of body composition. This year it’s the U-Scan, a hands-free home “urine lab” that you stick in your toilet.
Yes, you read that right.
The U-Scan consists of two parts: a reader and a replaceable cartridge. The reader itself is the part you pee on while the cartridge is inside. It has a thermal sensor to distinguish between pee and toilet water and energy efficient radars to detect Who urinate by identifying the movement and distance of your individual urine stream. In other words, the U-Scan only works with one person per reader. As for the actual mechanics of how to pee on the thing, Mathieu Letombe, CEO of Withings, says all you need to do is pee normally, but on the device rather than directly into the water. You don’t have to do anything to activate it and there are enough tests in the cartridges for about one test per day. Once the reader detects you’re peeing, it uses a microfluidic circuit to take a small sample. The rest is then dumped and the whole thing is “cleaned” when you flush.
It sounds relatively simple, but Withings takes pee very seriously and develops the technology so that you don’t have to risk touching that pee. It took four years and 13 patents, but you don’t have to do anything until it’s time to charge the reader or replace cartridges. (By the way, the reader charges via USB-C.) According to the product sheet, it also comes with a pair of gloves and cleaning solution.
For the cartridges, Withings is focusing on two use cases to begin with: reproductive health and nutrition. The Cycle Sync cartridge measures luteinizing hormone (LH), pH levels and hydration levels via urine specific gravity – or how concentrated your urine is. Tracking LH can help detect what part of the menstrual cycle a person is in and estimate an ovulation window. Withings says pH levels can serve as an indicator of whether your diet is too acidic (not enough veggies) or basic (not enough protein).
In addition to ketones and vitamin C, the Nutri Balance cartridge also measures pH and hydration. Ketones are an acid produced when your body breaks down fat and can be an indicator of your metabolic health. Too many ketones in your blood can cause ketoacidosis – a serious condition in which your blood is too acidic. Meanwhile, Withings says tracking vitamin C can help people improve iron absorption.
Once the tests are complete, the results are sent to the Withings app via Wi-Fi and the cartridge rotates to the next test pod. Each cartridge holds approximately 100 tests and lasts approximately three months. In the app itself, users also get useful tips to improve their health based on their results. (Though, as always, you should never take insights from health and wellness devices as medical advice.)
“Why urine? Because it contains tons of information about your daily health.”
“Why urine? Because it contains a lot of information about your daily health,” Letombe said The edge. Letombe further explained that urine is also preferred for daily use as it is non-invasive, unlike blood testing. Essentially, healthy adults urinate about seven times a day – why not take advantage of something you already do?
Regular urinalysis tests require you to collect samples yourself, and we all know how messy those can be. Then you usually have to wait for the sample to be sent to a lab before your doctor can interpret the results for you.
“We have this vision of this dream where you can have a lab at home that doesn’t require any effort or process where you send something to someone,” says Letombe.
However, Letombe is aware that urine gives many people the creeps. Consumers will have to get on board if the U-Scan is to be successful – which is one reason why Withings limits its launch cartridges to menstrual cycles and nutrition, even though it can track other biomarkers such as creatine and albumin. It hopes to gauge interest and pitch the idea to professional medical markets for research, clinical trials and remote patient monitoring. In that area, Withings is collaborating with the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris to monitor kidney stone patients. Another future collaboration is planned with Institut Curie to develop a way to monitor bladder and ovarian cancer recurrences and screenings.
Another annoying factor is data privacy, especially regarding menstrual health after last year’s overthrow Roe against Wade. In that regard, Letombe says the U-Scan is GDPR compliant. “It is our company policy not to allow anyone to look into that data. We have yet to look into the details regarding law enforcement, but at some point we would rather not sell something than risk sharing intimate data.”
Of course, all of this is also subject to regulatory approval. European consumers will be able to purchase the U-Scan reader and both Cycle Sync and Nutri Balance cartridges in Q2 2023 for €499.95. After that, you need to subscribe to refill cartridges or buy them separately. However, medical applications for U-Scan are awaiting approval by European regulatory authorities.
Meanwhile, in the US, Withings is still awaiting FDA approval, which could take months to years. Withings has run into this before with its Move ECG smartwatch and the Withings ScanWatch. While the latter has launched, the former is still MIA.