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 Easier Diagnosis of Esophageal Cancer
06.03.2017 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Sandia uses confined nanoparticles to improve hydrogen storage materials performance
27.02.2017 | DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

All articles from Interdisciplinary Research >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

OLED production facility from a single source

29.03.2017 | Trade Fair News

Transport of molecular motors into cilia

28.03.2017 | Life Sciences

A novel hybrid UAV that may change the way people operate drones

28.03.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>