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At Carnegie Mellon, even the laundry is online

Carnegie Mellon University is testing 'e-Suds,' a system that sends e-mail to students when their laundry is done and lets them go to a Web site to check whether a machine is available.
Timothy Michael, director of housing services at Carnegie Mellon University, holds a laptop computer showing the eSuds Web site. Keith Srakocic / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Technology is taking laundry from the clothesline to online. Carnegie Mellon University is testing a Web-based system that sends e-mail to students when their laundry is done and allows them to log on to an Internet site to check the status of machines.

The e-Suds system, developed by USA Technologies of Malvern, is being used in three dorms this spring. The school expects to offer it to its nearly 4,000 students who live on campus by the fall semester, according to Timothy Michael, director of housing services.

"The whole idea is to create convenience for our students," Michael said, noting many students are pressed for time. "The feedback has been really incredible."

The system could end the seemingly endless wait for a machine to become available and eliminate the problem of students returning to the laundry room, only to find their soggy clothes heaped on top of a machine -- or worse, the floor -- by someone trying to get to the washer.

Girish Jattani, 21, said e-Suds takes some of the worry out of laundry.

"It's a lot easier when you can go off" instead of waiting, said the junior from New York City, who was turning his jeans inside out before washing.

But he sees a potential downside.

Because Carnegie Mellon doesn't charge by the load -- instead, it increased housing fees by $75 per year, which Michael says is about $45 cheaper than a student's estimated yearly laundry costs -- Jattani worries people may be more likely to wash single items.

As for having to log on to check the machine, Jattani said that's not a problem. Most students are logged on most of the day anyway because the school has a wireless network.

USA Technologies, which provides credit card and other paperless payment systems for vending and digital imaging industries, plans to install e-Suds at several other colleges this summer, according to Wendy Jenkins, the company's vice president of marketing.

An earlier version was tested a couple of years ago. "First we wanted to see if the concept would fly," Jenkins said. "Now it's ready for prime-time use in the real world."

She said the next big push outside of the university-college market is big apartment complexes.

While there are some 536,000 laundry machines in the college market, Jenkins said there's another 3.4 million machines in residential multi-units.

Colleges and universities generally are leaders in adopting new technology, said Dick Casey, director of sales for multi-unit housing products for Alliance Laundry Systems. "They're trying to provide higher amenities to attract students that like the high technology."

The Ripon, Wis.-based maker of Speed Queen washers and dryers offers a similar system called Wash Alert. It's being used at Ohio University, Ball State and the Illinois Institute of Technology, Casey said.

While the e-Suds system can be adapted to any machine, Jenkins said, Wash Alert must be used with Speed Queen machines, according to Casey.

USA Technologies doesn't provide machines. Instead, it contracts with the handful of laundry operators who provide machines.

"We anticipate that this technology is going to be demanded and anticipated by students," said John Gregory, president of Caldwell and Gregory, a Richmond, Va., firm that provides laundry machines to 130 schools, including Carnegie Mellon. "Students are much more advanced technologically than in the past."

But high-tech suds aren't for everyone.

"I'll probably just keep using my watch," said Michael Ryan, a 19-year-old computer sciences major at Carnegie Mellon.