A new genre is emerging at kitchen and bath trade shows, and it’s shrouded in a faint aura of science fiction: aqua electronics. Several manufacturers have begun merging light- and touch-sensitive controls and lighting features with plumbing fixtures to bring out a mind-bending array of products. Light-activated faucets first began appearing in public bathrooms, notably in airports, in the 1990s after the Americans with Disabilities Act stipulated that washroom handles should be operable with minimal force. When the Energy Policy Act of 1992 then set out limits on water-use levels in public buildings, the automated design gained momentum.
In the home, technological developments have turned the humble tap and shower into sites for exercising poetic license. Designers at Swiss manufacturer KWC have taken field trips into the mountains to observe the flow of babbling brooks and ape the effect with clever manipulation of water pressure and outlet design to create “blades” of water. They are also introducing light and lighting effects into the hot-cold mixture. But all is not a testament to our energy consumption: the Toto EcoPower faucet has a hydro-powered turbine that generates its own power supply. Here are some highlights of the next generation of faucetry.