Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Launderati - smarter, cheaper, more usable laundromat

John emerged from the cardio room at the gym before work. Under the neon Launderati sign in the lobby, with the cold light of morning glancing through the window at an ATM in front of him, he waved his card and entered a PIN, pressing 'Cubicle'. "Cubicle D" appeared on the screen, and to his left a glass door slid open, waiting. Inside, finding the right door, he pushed it open to reveal a spartan changing room and shower, clad in a pale cream, awash with fluorescent lighting. His mid-grey suit, quiet determination on a hangar, hung in an alcove, freshly pressed. Once showered, suited and booted, he stuffed his clammy gym clothes in a chute in the wall and heard them thud somewhere by his knees. On the screen beside the chute, he pressed the 'Gym kit' preset, and exhaled the last of the energetic workout. He walked back down the corridor, chest out, chin up, ready to work.

Later that day amongst the bustle of the early evening, he returned to pick up some laundry from the day before, and noticed the french neon 'r' of Launderati flickering intermittently, oblivious to the crossing paths of the pedestrians beneath it. His thoughts of the turmoil of the day, the confrontation in the side-office, were jarred by the whir of the opening panel revealing his shirts and a bag of socks all shrinkwrapped in a thin layer of shiny green plastic, with Launderati scrawled across the front. After the day he'd had, he headed home to change to meet the guys at the bar. A good day, but definitely one to talk about, drink in hand.


What if laundry was done by machine, from start to finish? If opting for a cooler wash, washing in bulk, unattended, could lower the cost of a laundromat to below that of owning a washing machine? Using electronic tags on laundry bags with washing info would permit garments to be washed appropriately, and enable people to use a laundromat for all their washing. As in the narrative, the laundromat could be integrated into a gym or an apartment building. I did toy with the old idea of the washing appearing in his apartment automatically, through subsurface tubes. Ah, sci-fi is always within a moment's dream.

The realistic part is having a shop-sized machine receiving, sorting and washing garments automatically. Heat-exchangers and reprocessing units could make the energy and water use far more efficient than a home machine, a growing priority in the future. Pricing would no longer be per garment, but paid for monthly on a plan much like a mobile phone. Part of the purpose of the narrative was to emphasize that this would cease to be anything surprising or even special, just a necessary part of low-margin city-living.

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