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 Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs
07.11.2017 | Technische Universität München

nachricht NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies
20.10.2017 | Naval Research Laboratory

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 “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>