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Picture of Talking Washing Machine Interface for the Blind AKA 'SOAP'
View of SOAP in situ.jpg

The Short Version...

A recently purchased washing machine proved to be unusable to my wife, Sue, who is totally blind. Standard tactile markings did not work due to the use of LEDs to indicate the current wash programme. The LEDs do not have a fixed relationship to the selector control knob.

This Instructable describes the design and construction of a device that detects the currently illuminated LED and plays a recorded audio clip announcing the wash programme.

We have christened the device with the acronym 'SOAP' - Speech Output Announcing Programmes.

SOAP is non-invasive and requires no electrical connection to the washing machine.

This was my Grand Prize winning entry in the Arduino Contest 2019. Many thanks to everyone who voted from Pete (Wingletang), Sue and Milly!

Step 1: Detailed Description of the Problem

As Sue is totally blind we have to make sure that all of the equipment we purchase can be made accessible to her by tactile markings or audio feedback

Recently we purchased a Samsung Eco Bubble 8.0Kg washing machine. We chose this model as it is one of the few that still features a physical wash programme selector knob. Usually machines with this style of selector can be made accessible to the blind by the use of small adhesive rubber bumps called 'Bumpons' - one is attached to the knob as a pointer and others are placed at the locations of the different wash programmes. A simple code can be used - for example, one bump for 'Cotton', two bumps for 'Synthetics'. The operator then can select the right programme by lining up the pointer and the other bumps.

Unfortunately, after a few days it became apparent that Sue was not selecting the correct wash programmes.

The machine uses LEDs around the selector knob to indicate the currently selected programme. If the knob is rotated when the machine is off, the next time it is turned on the illuminated programme is still the last one that had been run to conclusion or part way through. Also, whilst the angular rotation of the knob is always the same from one programme to the next, the angular jump of the illuminated LED is not (the wash programmes are not spaced equally around the control due to a gap at the bottom).

Another problem is that there is no 'stop' to the rotation of the knob.

The Bumpons can thus become quickly misaligned, hence Sue's selection of the wrong programmes. See the attached video for a demonstration of this problem.

How to make the machine accessible by someone with no sight? Sue asked 'Why not make it speak?', and that is how 'SOAP' was born, a talking washing machine interface for the blind.

What an amazing and simple project you have done, i really appreciate your idea and effort.

Wingletang (author)  Shashikanth SS2 months ago
Thank you Shashi. Hopefully other people will pick up the idea of detecting visual display LEDs to drive speech devices to help the blind.
smartrem3 months ago
A well deserved win for this great project!
Wingletang (author)  smartrem3 months ago
Thank you smartrem. Our washing machine also stars in my next Instructible:

Not in the same league as SOAP but it cured an annoying problem.
Impressive work sir. I especially like the repurposing of the lid etc. in the design of your project. I try to do the same myself. On occasion I've found things in the street that were used in my projects. Good luck in the contest.
Many thanks Volthaus. I have a large collection of items and materials ready to be repurposed, or as Sue calls it, 'a pile of rubbish'! I always feel that many items such as packaging containers are crying out to be re-used in interesting projects.

See my Instructable
erana_reborn4 months ago
Greetings to Milly from Tika, my wife's own guide dog :) this particular instructable may be useful for us, as finding all kind of appliances WITHOUT relying solely on screen menus is starting to become increasingly difficult.
Wingletang (author)  erana_reborn4 months ago
Woof, woof, woof! Maybe we need to train the Guide Dogs to operate the machines for their owners!

My hope is that more and more appliances are created with Alexa connectivity (or any of the other AI assistants) - this would be useful for visually impaired and sighted people. Sue already operates our lights, heating and Blue Ray player through an Amazon Echo.
OculumForamen4 months ago
Well done sir!!! I have voted for your entry because when you make something for another person and succeed brilliantly, you get the vote! Do you realize that you could easily sell these through the institute for the blind? They offer any device that will help those with vision impairments to those that need them. You have an awesome business opportunity there. Don't worry about having shared this on Instructables, most people will not build this, and even less in your country, and None of them will be blind! You could make a big difference in People's lives. All you'd need is a model and make of the unit, and you could custom design it for the face of the model, and Bob's your Uncle! You could take orders at any pace you'd like, and you could also design it to work with both the washer and the dryer, say with a switch the switches between then, with auditory notification, of course! Others could do the same in their areas as well, with your permission, of course. These can really make a big difference! Thank you for sharing this, and I congradulate you for this design and I hope you win this contest!!!
Wingletang (author)  OculumForamen4 months ago
Many thanks for the great feedback OculumForamen.

I already run my own IT company (working for a number of clients including a several visually impaired people), and also work more-or-less full time for a company that connects generation projects (solar, wind, biomass, diesel, battery storage etc.) to the national grid. My time is thus pretty full! I enjoy dreaming up these devices and hope that they inspire others.

I think that the real goal should be to get manufacturers to consider the visually impaired when designing their products. Built-in speech or a standard interface that can be used to communicate with external speech devices (such as Amazon's Alexa devices) would be great.

Regarding the dryer, the low tech 'bumpon' solution works well as the control knob is a traditional type that has a fixed relationship between angular position and drying programme.

We recently bought a dishwasher that has an individual button for each programme so it is accessible to Sue.

Watch this space for my next device for the visually impaired...

Tsu Dho Nimh4 months ago
That is totally awesome!
I loved too!
Wingletang (author)  Tsu Dho Nimh4 months ago
Thank you Tsu Dho Nimh!
Dave th Rave4 months ago
This is a great Arduino project.
You should win just because it can help the blind in so many ways, washing machine is just one. The sensor ring could possibly be redesigned to fit many different applications and the rest of the build be pretty much the same. Well done for making and sharing this. Even if Samsung never gets back to you I hope your ideas, designs and plans go viral and help countless others. Pretty much that's the spirit of the online sharing community.
Wingletang (author)  Dave th Rave4 months ago
Many thanks Dave. Hopefully if the assistive tech competition goes ahead there may be some clones / developments of SOAP. Still no word from Samsung...
oyeka4 months ago
Well-done! Congratulations on making life easy for your dearest. You already earn my vote and an upvote here.

Please, I need a guide on how your sensor could could be adapted to announce opening of a number of doors, let's say 14 doors as you are having 14 LDRs.
Wingletang (author)  oyeka4 months ago
Hello oyeka. You would have to have a sensor on each door. I suggest something like this:

Such a sensor would replace an LDR. As long as the input voltage to the UNO changes from <3V to >3V the system would be able to detect the open / close state of the door.

The code would have to be modified - the SOAP code relies on the fact that only one of the fourteen LEDs is illuminated at a given moment. Maybe you are planning on a Chatterbox for each door?

If you do build the door announcer, please post it as an Instructable! Reminds me of something:

"All the doors in this spaceship have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done."

" As the door closed behind them it became apparent that it did indeed have a satisfied sigh-like quality to it. “Hummmmmmmyummmmmmm ah!” it said."

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
DavidW7425 months ago
Many thanks for this project. I have a friend working on a similar idea but nothing to do with a blind partner. You may well know this, but while a raspberry Pi would chew up a lot more millamps, it can readily aplay sound 'bytes' and espeak "text". I use the former to play train sounds and the latter to announce arrivals "The train on platform one is the 12:27 from Arnprior ..." I insert the actual time from an RTC into the text string prior to making a system call so it's always "ON TIME"'. I'm afraid this early movie only plays sounds taking cues from sensors under the track.:
oyeka DavidW7424 months ago
Can you give a detailed procedure of this. Or an instructable would not be out of place.
Wingletang (author)  DavidW7425 months ago
Thank you DavidW742. I have never used Raspberry Pi - I am still exploring the Arduino world. Although this was my first ever Arduino project, I have many years experience in programming Programmable Logic Controllers in industry. The Arduino is amazing as it has more power than many of the expensive systems I used, all for around £7!

I love your railway project - especially the steampunk control desk. Sue and I went to a steampunk concert by Professor Elemental last week - at one point he asked the audience what they would do if they ruled the world. I answered "Make all washing machines talk". The Prof then rapped several perfect lines about talking washing machines! I wish I could have recorded this - it would have been a great addition to the SOAP Instructable.
Cotekino4 months ago
Hi; Congratulations for this Instructable!
I specially appreciate that the interface doesn't need any electrical connection to the machine ('put on & use it'). Thanks for sharing it.
Also, maybe you can propose it to Samsung factory, who knows...
Wingletang (author)  Cotekino4 months ago
Thank you Cotekino. I wanted a non-invasive solution because we have a 3 year warranty on the machine and I did not want to invalidate this.

It would be a lot easier if the device was wired to the washing machine!

I did email Samsung over a week ago but I have had no reply. I also emailed Velleman, but also no reply...
Azayles4 months ago
What a fantastic solution! Looks very sleek, too :D
I wonder if the LEDs on the washing machine are pulsed rapidly on and off, instead of being on constantly? If so, you might be able to capitalise on this modulation to better discriminate against background light, in the same way IR remote controls use modulated IR pulses.
You'd likely have to use photo diodes instead of LDRs, but could be a fun experiment :)
Wingletang (author)  Azayles4 months ago
Thank you Azayles. That is a very interesting thought. I will have to investigate.

The sensor was the most difficult part to make, requiring a number of tweaks including the light tight cover. I actually bought some photo diodes a few weeks ago to carry out some experiments.

At the moment I am working on my next piece of assistive tech - watch this space!
domswatson4 months ago
This is fantastic. We're in exactly the same situation, my girlfriend (soon to be wife) is completely blind and we have exactly the same washing machine as you too! Definitely building this if it gets me out of the washing (at the moment we only use cotton and dry so she can flick between the two options counting beeps, far from a decent solution) it seems more of this kind of control is becoming common, Carly calls these infinity controls as they just keep turning with no reference other then visual. Do you guys go to sight village, its a conference showcasing accessible technology (next one in July at Birmingham, UK) , there are some really interesting people and stuff there. Thanks again!
Wingletang (author)  domswatson4 months ago
Amazing! I really uploaded this Instructable expecting people to take elements of the project for use in different situations and models of washing machine and other appliances. It now seems that you may end up duplicating SOAP in its entirety.

The hardest part of the project was designing and constructing the sensor - it did take a lot of tweaking but it worked AOK in the end.

Sue and I have been to Sight Village many times but will not be able to make it this year. We used to produce a cassette tape magazine for Dolphin Computer Access called 'The Whistler' so we were involved with Dolphin and a lot of other access tech companies.
JamesK3674 months ago
I'm not normally a poster, but this is awesome, got my vote. Selfless and very well explained. Looks very professional too.

Very well done
Wingletang (author)  JamesK3674 months ago
Many thanks James.
zlotaraczka4 months ago
Great idea of retrofitting a feature which could be a part of the original washing maschine. It is a shame manufacturers miss the opportunity. The device is well described and presented in professional and thorough manner, really genuine. Well done!
Wingletang (author)  zlotaraczka4 months ago
Thank you zlotaraczka. Even if manufacturers included an interface or WiFi connection so that a speech box can be added that would be OK.
dvyas4 months ago
One of the best instructable I have read till date. Your wife must be happy and proud of you.
Wingletang (author)  dvyas4 months ago
I think Sue believes that I only built this to get out of doing the washing :)

Seriously, Sue loves any device or technique that helps her to be independent.
What a brilliant instructable! Beautifully presented,well described and fulfilling a need not recognised by the manufacturers. I believe this is a perfect example of what Instructables is all about.
Thanks to yourself,Sue and Milly - what a team!
Wow!! How clever of you Peter and how lucky is Sue to have you to make her life a little easier.
You deserve a big prize for being able to make this contraption so well.
Love to you both and Milly.
Wingletang (author)  PaulineG374 months ago
Thank you Mushroomsouperman! Seems the replies have got mixed up. Sue, Pete (Wingletang) & Milly.
Wingletang (author)  PaulineG374 months ago
Thanks Pauline. I will have to work on the blind 10 Pin Bowling aiming system next!
(Sue and Pauline are both involved in NBTBA - National Blind Ten Pin Bowling Association in the UK. )
Wingletang (author)  MUSHROOMSOUPERMAN5 months ago
Woof Woof from Lab Assistant Milly!
AIS115 months ago
your project make me feel warm. thank you.
Wingletang (author)  AIS114 months ago
You are welcome! Many thanks AIS11.
SteveMann5 months ago
Excellent Instsructable, very well made and well-documented!

One thing I was wondering from the first video at the beginning, it appeared to always start on COTTON, on power up. So could you simply use the bump markers, and always set it to COTTON before you turn it on? (Align the bump markers to COTTON just before you turn it on, and then the bump markers would always match the state variables.)

But from the video near the end, it seemed to start at five = SPIN on powerup....
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