Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Chatty washer cleans up access to high-tech appliances

18.05.2004


A smooth-talking washing machine may not be savvy enough to keep a user from mixing whites and darks, but it can open doors that the digital revolution has closed to the blind.



New generation appliances are sleek, high-tech – and incomprehensible if the user can’t see the dazzling array of LED displays.

But it’s a problem that can be talked through, literally. A team of engineering students at Michigan State University have figured out a way to cheaply modify household appliances to be easily used by the blind or those who have trouble seeing.


"One of the new trends in appliances is more buttons and lights, which is a seemingly insurmountable challenge to those who can’t see," said Stephen Blosser, a specialist in MSU’s Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities. "If you can’t see the buttons, you just guess. But we can fix that."

Enter a senior-level electrical engineering class, in which student teams are matched up with needs. The students were unleashed on the problem: Make the washer accessible to the blind, make it sturdy enough to withstand the spin cycle and cheap enough to be readily available.

Whirlpool donated a Duet washer, the cutting-edge model that boasts a bevy of sleek buttons and lights.

The students immersed themselves in the demands of the microprocessor, and figured out how to link up a voice prompter to the machine’s existing LED read outs. But the students quickly discovered that the success would be found in simplicity.

"We figured out pretty quickly that the user isn’t going to care about the technology details," said Nathan Bedford, a computer engineering senior from Southfield. "It’s been really good to work with the consumers."

The washer clearly announces each function as it’s selected, and can also run through the full range of selections. Bedford supplied the voice, but points out any voice – or any language – could easily be substituted.

The hardware costs about $30 in mass production on the washer, which retails for about $1,300. The modifications barely change the machine’s appearance. Only a smattering of holes for a speaker, tiny Braille labels and a small volume knob belie the hidden talents.

The machine was modified for Michael and Karla Hudson, both of whom are blind, and admire the latest technology.

"My blind friends warned me about buying a new appliance, that it would be a nightmare because it’s getting harder to buy them with real knobs," Michael Hudson said. "These modifications make it accessible to everybody."

The Hudsons are taking the talking washer home to test it out. Don Maynard, Whirlpool global product manager, said the company is actively pursuing several ways for people with a wide variety of abilities to interact with their appliances. Currently, the MSU project is not on the market.

"We were thrilled with the work done so far," Maynard said. "It’s going to provide a great opportunity on campus for students and we learn from it as well. It was a fantastic effort and we’re pleased we could participate."

Erik Goodman, a professor of electrical engineering who ran the course, already is gearing up to start the next project: a dryer.

"People want to have better control of their appliances, and our students learned a lot from this chance to attack a meaningful, real-world design problem," Goodman said. "One lesson they carried away – that with the right design, some products can be made more usable by many people without much additional cost – is one we hope they will apply in their careers."

Erik Goodman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.msu.edu/

More articles from Interdisciplinary Research:

nachricht Start of work for the world's largest electric truck
20.04.2018 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

nachricht Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo
19.03.2018 | Universität Basel

All articles from Interdisciplinary Research >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: BAM@Hannover Messe: innovative 3D printing method for space flight

At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.

Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

The dispute about the origins of terahertz photoresponse in graphene results in a draw

25.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Graphene origami as a mechanically tunable plasmonic structure for infrared detection

25.04.2018 | Materials Sciences

First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed

25.04.2018 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>