Withings has already made a name for itself as a maker of smart scales and ultra-stylish activity trackers. Now, the French health-tech company is making a foray into the world of medical analysis, building a device to scan people’s urine. It’s initially intended as a way of supporting decentralized clinical trials, the company hopes to offer it as a consumer health-tech device in the future. Say hello to U-Scan.
U-Scan is a pebble-shaped device that hangs from a plastic tab on the side of your toilet bowl, much like a deodorizer block. The hardware, 90mm in diameter, is intended to sit on the porcelain where most people’s pee streams would land. There’s a collection inlet at the lowest point, and a sensor will detect the presence of urine and trigger a pump you pull a small quantity into its body. From there, the sample is pumped into a microfluidic system which triggers a chemical reaction.
(This microfluidic system is a little like the litmus test-esque strips you'll have seen a doctor use when testing your pee. As you can see from the picture, these are far smaller, but the reaction changes the color of the paper, which is then read by the device's scanner. This should, for instance, be able to make binary conclusions about substances present in your waste.)
Sitting underneath the U-Scan itself will be a cartridge, which contains the specific test that you’re looking for. The company has, so far, partnered with two medical centers in Europe to explore ways of discovering renal lithiasis and bladder cancer. It’s hoped that the system will eventually be used to mass-screen for cancer markers and support medical studies.
In terms of the consumer units, the company has developed U-Scan Cycle Sync, designed to be used for period tracking. The idea is to provide detailed, regular testing to enable fine-grain cycle tracking without the need for calendar apps. As well as predicting your menstrual cycle, the system says it’ll predict your ovulation window, hydration levels and nutrient levels.
The other is U-Scan Nutri Balance, which offers a “detailed metabolic guide to hydration and nutrition.” This will look at your water balance, nutrient levels, fat metabolism and quantities of vitamin C found in your pee. Most crucially, you'll be able to monitor your ketone levels, as well as the pH of your urine, good for determining if you’re eating a healthy enough diet.
When processed, the results of the tests are shared to a server over WiFi or Bluetooth, and then the cartridge will reset with a fresh test pod. The company says that U-Scan is sufficiently smart to distinguish different users, such as various family members in a home, and separate tests accordingly.
Withings has also said that its system conforms to the highest security standards, and that its data will always be held in France, in a GDPR-compliant setup. It says that U-Scan will run for three months before needing a recharge (over USB-C) and a replacement cartridge.
In terms of pricing, and availability, you’ll expect that whatever date Withings says, it may be delayed due to regulatory approvals. The company says that U-Scan will be first made available in Europe at some point in Q2, 2023, with the Nutri Balance and Cycle Sync cartridges. A starter kit, with one reader and cartridge, will be priced at €499.95 ($530), while replacement cartridges are expected to cost €30 ($31). A US release will take place at some point afterward, whenever the FDA decides to clear the product for consumer use.