Thursday, February 7, 2008

Finnish toilets arouse curiosity

I have been socializing in Digg quite a lot lately and one of the posts that reached the front page (which is not very easy nowadays) is the following. At the moment it has 774 Diggs!

Finnish toilets: text-to-pee

Text "open" to open the door. I wonder if it'll be smart enough to realize the lav is already occupied.

read more | digg story
The comments are fun to read. This is one of the examples that people don't really know Finland. To us the whole thing was no big deal. We can pay for parking with the mobile, as well as bus fares, train tickets and so on. Also all people who can manage life on their own have mobiles. These text messages are free. In cities the use of restrooms can cost even one euro!

This story is actually a short version and when I started to track it back where it started, I found out that it was published in really many places.

Let's start with what the local newspaper Helsingin Sanomat writes about it:

SMS opens doors to toilets in some rest areas along Highway 1 in Western Finland

Novel method seen as a means of combating vandalism


As a result of continued and endemic vandalism, the Finnish Road Administration has developed a system which allows travellers to open the doors to roadside toilets only by sending a SMS message to the number given by the Road Administration.

The new system was introduced in January in the rest areas along Highway 1 in Paimio and Salo near Turku, following numerous breakages, arson attempts, and thefts in the buildings housing public conveniences for motorists.
In the rest areas of Pitkäporras (Paimio) and Haukkala (Salo), the toilets are located in neat blueish-grey maintenance buildings on both sides of the motorway. In addition to toilets, the buildings also provide showers and a place for disposing garbage.

The idea for the SMS lock system was created in the Turku Region of the Finnish Road Administration. According to road maintenance expert Juha Mäki, this kind of system is not available anywhere else in Finland, nor in any other country across the world, as far anybody knows.
In order to prevent further damage to the facilities, a number of ideas were discussed, including the closing down of the toilets entirely or bringing in camera surveillance.
There are instructions on the doors to toilets and shower rooms, advising prospective users to send a text message "OPEN" to the number given on the door. The call is directed to a modem, which then sounds a buzzer and opens the door.

The opening of the door costs just the normal SMS rate without any additional charges.
The traffic centre will save the numbers of the callers for a while, but not permanently. This should somewhat raise the threshold for vandalism and reduce the damages to public property, as people will know that their phone number is down on record if they wish to trash the place.
In Paimio’s Pitkäporras rest area there is also a café. Nina Backman, who serves in the café, reported that last summer the number of visitors to the toilets provided by the Finnish Road Administration was some 500 during one day alone.
The travellers on long-distance coaches also find the free toilets useful.
The story submitted to Digg was published in engadget, which had linked the origin of the story being switched. The stories are basically the same, but the closing comments differ.

engadget says:
The idea is that folks will be less likely to lose their mind and graffiti up the place knowing that their mobile number is (at least temporarily) on file, but it remains to be seen if uprooters will simply take their defacing ways elsewhere or actually excrete in peace.
and switched:
The system will allow police to track down criminals, vandals, and those who leave the seat up.

switched has got the story from Boing Boing, which does not joke but states at the end:
The company managing the service will keep a short term record of all users phone numbers, simply so that if the toilet is then damaged by criminals, they can be traced by the police.
Boing Boing links back to SMS Text Messages, which has a good point:
In this way, if someone damages the facilities, authorities have the relevant mobile numbers to follow-up. That won’t work too well if the person’s using an unregistered pay-as-you-go sim card — but generally speaking, it’s hoped that this should act as a deterrent to would-be vandals. Cool idea!

You could get some rather interesting statistics from this too, couldn’t you?
The next backlink is to cellular-news, which does not tell the source of the news. The text simply states the facts and has probably got it from the local news agency.

If you are interested, you can read all the comments in each magazine. I had a good laugh with them!


6 comments:

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off topic:
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Everymatter said...

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cooper said...

I couldn't open the local newspaper article but that story is incredible as well a funny.

Anonymous said...

Omg, i'd love to see this and try this. But as stated in your post. There better be no "hack" to open toilets with someone inside :P Just imagine...

Anonymous said...

Oops, last one was me Bartimusl from Digg :)