A revolutionary washing machine activated by a dog’s bark has been unveiled in Sheffield - handing a lifeline to disabled people who use canine helpers.
The ‘Woof to Wash’ appliance enables specially-trained dogs – which can already strip beds, fill laundry baskets, and load and empty washing machines – to unlock the machine with a bespoke footpad, and start it with a simple woof.
Clients aided by the Jessops Riverside based 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.
Two-year-old golden labrador Duffy did the honours of demonstrating at the organisation’s base on Brightside Lane.
A doggy footpad and a microphone system have been added, which recognise a dog’s bark.
That means 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, then activate the cycle by barking.
Measured amounts of detergent are automatically added from a storage bottle on the machine.
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 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 John, who is 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 in a fortnight.
John 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.”
The charity’s dogs are trained using voice commands and hand signals so 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.
The charity’s director of operations Rita Howson said: “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 over 200 dogs to date throughout the country and relies entirely on volunteer donations.
* For more information about its work visit Support Dogs or call 0114 261 7800.