Washing machines have undoubtedly improved our lives, and were traditionally set by one or more knobs and perhaps buttons that could be relied upon to run a certain cycle when twisted to the correct angle. As things have progressed, the appliances have come to rely on more programmable controls. While this gives system designers more options, for those who are visually impaired, it means that no longer can a knob in a known position (marked with special bumpers, AKA bumpons) be depended upon in order run the desired wash cycle.
Peter Mead, whose wife Sue is entirely blind, ran into this situation with a Samsung Eco Bubble 8.0 Kg washer. While it has a dial for cycle selection, it’s more of an encoder situation than a “hard” selector, giving feedback with an LED. Naturally, Mead wasn’t satisfied with this situation, and created the SOAP, or Speech Output Announcing Programmes that audibly calls out which cycle the washer is in.
The device works with a series of 14 LDR sensors that are placed directly above the selection LEDs. When one lights up, it transmits this information via a ribbon cable to a nearby ‘chatterbox’ containing an Arduino Uno clone and an audio shield. The chatterbox audibly announces the sensed washer cycle, allowing Sue to do the laundry independently. One interesting note here is that, although the unit is battery powered, it’s used only a few minutes a day, and has worked for nearly a year without any issues.