Disabled people using canine helpers have been handed a lifeline thanks to a revolutionary washing machine – which is activated by a dog’s bark.
The ‘Woof to Wash’ enables specially trained dogs – which can already strip beds, fill laundry baskets, load and empty washing machines – to unlock the machine with a bespoke footpad and start it with a simple woof.
Clients aided by the Support Dogs charity – which provides canine assistants for people with disabilities, epileptics and children with autism – will now be able to benefit from the invention.
Inventor John Middleton said: “People who are visually impaired, have manual dexterity problems, autism or learning difficulties can find the complexity of modern day washing machines too much.
“I had been working on a single programme washing machine to make things easier, and there was a lot of demand for it.
“But then I saw a video from the charity Support Dogs, where a dog strips a bed and loads the washing machine.
“I was completely blown away by the footage and instantly thought I could invent a machine where the dog does everything.
“So I got in touch with Support Dogs and they loved the idea. They said it would be a huge help to their severely disabled users.”
After an initial meeting Mr Middleton, who is the managing director of UK laundry specialist JTM, set to work with a team of engineers and finished the project with the help of manufacturer Miele Professional in a fortnight.
The invention has now been unveiled at the Support Dogs headquarters in Sheffield, with two year-old golden labrador Duffy doing the honours of demonstrating.
A “doggy footpad” and a microphone system have been added which recognise a dog’s bark.
This means that dogs are able to unlock the machine by pressing the pad with their paw, pull a rope with their mouths to open the machine, close the machine again with their nose, before activating the cycle by barking.
Measured amounts of detergent are automatically added from a storage bottle on the machine.
Mr Middleton said: “Doing projects like this is mine, and my team’s, true passion.
“We make our money from selling mainstream products, but it’s making bespoke products – like the Woof to Wash – that really excites us. The idea is to simply show what can be done – because the possibilities really are endless.”
Rita Howson, director of operations at Support Dogs, hailed the bark-activated washing machine and praised John for coming up with a simplified bespoke machine for their clients.
She said: “A normal washing machine can be very challenging so the single programme machine is very helpful.
“But a lot of people we work with also have speech problems. For instance, some with cerebral palsy would have great difficulty so a voice-activated machine is handy.”
The charity’s dogs are trained using voice commands and hand signals so that they can help their owners fetch post, turn on light switches, open doors, assist in dressing and undressing and now do a complete laundry cycle.
Ms Howson added: “What John has brilliantly come up with is to tailor make these machines to each individual’s needs.”
The small charity, set up in 1992, has trained 200 dogs throughout the country and relies entirely on volunteer donations. For more information about its work, visit www.supportdogs.org.uk or call 0114 261 7800.
Comment: Page 16.