Text In for a…Toilet?

btaIn London and looking for a loo? Well, Westminster City Council–which oversees London’s bustling Oxford Street, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament–this week launched “SatLav”: a text-based toilet-finding service.

Tourists, shoppers, and (most importantly) pub patrons in London’s West End can now text the word “toilet” to 80097, and receive an SMS message back with the address of the nearest public facility. The service, which covers some 40 public toilets in the area and costs about 50 cents, is meant to reduce the 10,000 gallons of urine that end up in Westminster streets each year from alleyway “relief.”

SatLav works by pinpointing the caller’s position based on the strength of their phone signal. Which is a technological play seemingly growing in popularity: Google, also just this week, announced a new “My Location” feature for its mobile maps function, targeting users without a GPS-enabled handset–which only about 15 percent of mobile subscribers have.

Google’s rollout, though, combines information broadcast from the cell towers along with super-secret Google algorithms to determine your location within a neighborhood. But fear not privacy mavens, as Google has no visibility into your name, phone number, email, or even your account login. (Although you know geo-targeted ads aren’t far behind this). Philips Electronics is also trying something similar, in partnership with the Mall of America, which allows people to text in to keep track of where they are in oversized parking garages.

Anyway, back to the john, there are some interesting industry applications here–including a service targeted specifically to suffers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as suggested by our healthcare expert in the Lab, Raquel Krouse. Perhaps U.S.-based companies such as Vindigo, which offer similar cell phone search services, might be a fit for pharma companies here? Still, SatLav has the…um, honor of being the first text-based toilet-finder in Britain.

Certainly, though, I think we can all agree that Richard Chisnell, director of–and I’m being perfectly serious–the British Toilet Association, put it best: “Thank heavens for Westminster’s public toilets.”