Washlava Connects Laundry Equipment to the IoT
Picture this … You (or your college self) walk into a laundromat with a basket of clothes only to find every machine in use. You put down your load and try to determine where the line is so that you can estimate how long you’ll be waiting. While you’re scouting for the next open washer you find the change machine and insert your bills to get quarters. Alas, the machine has no quarters, adding to your aggravation.
If you were at a Washlava IoT-enabled laundromat, however, this nightmare would never happen.
The Washlava system is designed to improve the user experience by letting you reserve as many as three machines from your smart devices before you even leave your door. When you arrive at the laundry facility the machines are ready and waiting for you. Payment is handled through an app so empty coin machines don’t ruin your day.
The Internet of Things is enabling innovative companies like Washlava to solve new challenges by adding intelligence, connectivity, and functionality to a wide variety of devices. Todd Belveal, the founder of Washlava, applied the experience he gained through his earlier mobile-enabled car rental company to equip commercial laundry equipment with IoT functionality, eliminating wait times and the need for coins, while simplifying maintenance for staff.
Turning dumb washing machines into smart clothes enhancement devices
Commercial laundry environments present different challenges from household washers and dryers. As Belveal explains, “Washers and dryers are ideal IoT candidates when deployed as rental equipment in public settings such as laundromats and shared laundry rooms. We haven’t really turned commercial washers and dryers into ‘smart clothes enhancement devices,’ but we created a single, unified, and accessible pay laundry network connecting customers to equipment and services via their mobile devices.”
Turning washing machines and dryers into networked endpoints makes centralized management and usage analysis available remotely, while enabling users to find and reserve the machines they want ahead of time. “The power of our platform from an IoT perspective, at least at this early stage, is not in next-level machine learning or automation,” according to Belveal, "but in networking, and eliminating the friction of coins and cards to transform an analog industry to a digital one by applying IoT principles.”
Belveal says Washlava’s original design “included reverse engineering of machines and proprietary hardware. It’s the only way to do this.”
Washlava started experimenting with Raspberry Pi mini-PCs. That gave designers the initial proof of concept while identifying needed changes and improvements. The team developed a proprietary board in-house to address the unique challenges of the laundromat environment. Washlava has three patents pending on its system covering its communication, automation, and interface, Belveal says.
Laundry environments can be harsh, so the Washlava team is always working to improve durability and protections. The implementations hold up well in production.
“The platform puts tiny computers inside giant metal boxes with whirling motors, punishing heat, and lots of electronic interference,” says Washlava CTO Dexter Weiss. “We anticipated challenges keeping those computers connected with a snappy internet connection.”
The variability of networking conditions in the field continues to present a challenge at each deployment and requires ingenuity in hardware design, networking architecture, and software, meaning Washlava is constantly improving its design.
The Washlava system collects data across its network and is used to deliver insight and functionality. According to Weiss, “We track cycles across our entire fleet in real time. For our partners, laundry owners, and support staff, we present this data in a web application called Drive. For laundry-doers, we stream data through our mobile apps to be as relevant as possible. Users can see their active cycles, cycle history, billing history, and availability at their nearby Washlava.”
Managing the back end
Shared laundry facilities require significant attention by maintenance staff, which is why Washlava built management capabilities into its system that give admins full machine visibility, as well as the ability to start machines, reset them, and put them into maintenance mode remotely.
The system benefits laundromat owners too by enabling them to scale their business more easily. There are no quarters or cash to manage, customer refunds are completely seamless, and Washlava provides 24/7 support and built-in marketing to simplify the ownership experience.
Machine owners can see their revenue and machine statuses in real time too. “They can also instantly change prices,” Belveal says. “These features are mostly not available to operators today outside of Washlava.”
Enabling laundromats with Washlava’s IoT system makes them remotely manageable and improves the user experience. Thanks to the custom modules, users can get down and dirty and clean again with the IoT.
Scott Koegler is a technology journalist with 20 years experience writing about business, computing and technology topics. He was CIO for three mid-sized companies for a total of 15 years and that experience has provided an important perspective for his journalistic contributions. His work with developers, marketing, business processes, and C-level executives has allowed him to focus on the intersection of business and technology.