ARTICLE WRITTEN BY TAYLOR KUBOTA
"Barely hidden from his study participants, William Jou, a former graduate student in mechanical engineering at Stanford University, pulled off a ruse straight out of The Wizard of Oz. Except, instead of impersonating a great and powerful wizard, Jou pretended to be an autonomous sink. He did this to test whether a sink that adapts to personal washing styles could reduce water use.
A faucet with anything close to the brains of a mechanical engineering student doesn’t yet exist. So, Jou and his colleagues in the lab of Erin MacDonald, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, made the next best thing: a faucet that seemed to automatically adjust to a user’s preferences, but was actually controlled by Jou.
The results of their sly experiment, detailed in a paper presented Aug. 20 at the ASME 2019 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference (IDETC/CIE), support the idea that thoughtfully designed smart sinks could help conserve water by regulating water use and nudging users to develop more water-conscious habits.
“We looked at the faucet because that’s where a lot of water usage in the home occurs, but when you compare your sink to other products in the house – a thermostat or refrigerator – you see that there haven’t been updates to how the sink works in a very long time,” said MacDonald, who is senior author of the paper. “There have been small updates but nothing that really harnesses the power of technology.”