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Dirty students to get e-wash

Two companies are to web-enable washing machines at US campuses, allowing cashless payments and remote monitoring of wash cycles.

IBM and USA Technologies plan to web-enable 9,000 washing machines and dryers at US colleges and universities.

The scheme, called e-Suds, will allow students to pay for their laundry using an ID card or even a mobile phone.

The washing machines will be linked to an IBM back-end system, allowing students to find out when a machine will be available and even order soap and fabric softener, which will be dispensed from storage bins attached to the machines.

When the wash is complete the students will be alerted via e-mail sent to their pagers or PCs.

Laundromat owners will go online to monitor machine performance and conduct proactive maintenance, as well as check filter clogs, water temperature and usage patterns, helping to reduce the need for on-site service calls.

IBM will host the e-Suds transaction data and web sites and integrate the washing machines and dryers with customers' back-end systems that handle inventory, payment authorisation and reports. USA Technology will provide technology which makes transactions of less than a dollar cost effective for vendors.

Cashless and credit card transactions at vending machines nearly quadrupled between 1990 and 2000 and research firm Ovum predicts that wireless micropayments - transactions of less than $10 - will total $200 billion worldwide by 2005.

"IBM's data integration and hosting expertise and USA Technology's point-of-sales systems and services are positioned to help drive the wireless vending industry forward," said Dean Douglas, vice president, telecommunications industry, IBM Global Services. "IBM and USA Technology are making vending systems smarter as well as easier for the consumer and more secure from vandalism."

Vending industry sources say the annual losses attributed to vandalism are about $500 million, not including the cost of repairing and/or replacing machines. According to USA Tech, cashless vending helps to eliminate this problem.

"This is just one more step with IBM to provide a more scalable, cost effective solution for our business as our customer base expands," said George Jensen, chairman and CEO of USA Technologies. "This relationship helps ensure that our momentum will continue to accelerate and that USA Technologies will continue to be a market leader in wireless transaction processing."

No one seems to have taken into account the fact that students are far from renowned for their personal hygiene.

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