At FirstBuild, we like to work on cool projects that actually help people—and some of our favorite projects are those that promote accessibility of appliances to ALL members of our community!
On July 2, 2018, 15-year-old Jack DuPlessis, son of FirstBuild Engineer Sam DuPlessis, presented his invention, The Talking Laundry Module, at the American Council for the Blind Annual Convention in St. Louis.
Jack’s design enables a washer and dryer to audibly speak control settings. Last year, Jack’s work landed him and FirstBuild the American Printing House for the Blind Extra Mile Award—not too shabby for a teenager’s resume!
How did Talking Laundry come to life?
When Jack was just 13, he showed an interest in programming. So when his dad asked if he would be interested in working on a solution to improve the laundry experience for the visually impaired, Jack lit up and was eager to take on the task.
Jack began hacking his own house’s washer and dryer, and in a single weekend was able to get them to make simple sounds. He finished out the project at FirstBuild and was able to get a create a module that converted text to audible speech that announced each control setting.
FirstBuild began to demo the product to visitors who toured the facility, and the first prototypes were tested at high school dormitories at the Kentucky School for the Blind.
The Talking Laundry module is now for sale, and it plugs right into select models of GE Appliances washers and dryers.
Talking Laundry isn’t the first (or last!) project that seeks to improve accessibility.
The success of the Talking Laundry Module made us wonder what other appliances we could get to talk.
A few weeks ago, we asked a group of co-op students from GE Appliances to visit FirstBuild for a mini hackathon. The goal was to program a GE Appliances dishwasher with speaking technology similar to the Talking Laundry Module.
The team was able to prove the concept and programmed the dishwasher to speak the settings using a recorded human voice. The next step is to expand the team and improve the programming.
Cooktop for the Visually Impaired
During a FirstBuild Hackathon, a group of previously unconnected makers came together and conceived the idea of a cooktop for the visually impaired. Some of the unique features included:
- Proximity motion sensors to warn customers if the burners were hot as they approached the unit
- Voice-enabled technology to set temperatures and control the device
- An induction cooktop with locating rings for the burners
Students from Spalding University’s Occupational Therapy Program came to FirstBuild to work on projects to assist in mobility. The students built a prototype for an easy-access refrigerator handle that included a large loop at the bottom to make it easier to get a hand through a handle and pull the door open from a lower angle.
Spalding University students also designed a laundry lever system that enables users to push a lever to open a front-loading washer and dryer instead of having to pull it open. The lever system significantly reduces the force and finger strength required to open the door. FirstBuild community member John Hicks has been working on improvements to the laundry lever design.
Got an idea? Join the community!
FirstBuild is continuously growing a community of appliance and product enthusiasts that creates solutions for the home that improve quality of life. The FirstBuild Makerspace is the perfect place to experiment with new products and interact with community members. We are an open facility—come in and co-create with us, or join our online community and share your ideas!