• As newer models of laundry turn to digital interfaces, vision-impaired owners find it more difficult to do laundry independently.
  • FirstBuild has created a plug-in voice box that works with connected GE Appliances washers and dryers to speak laundry settings.
  • 14-year-old programmer Jack DuPlessis, a member of the FirstBuild community, developed code for the Talking Laundry.

LOUISVILLE, Ky.July 20, 2017Laundry may seem like a simple task when vision isn’t an issue, but imagine if you couldn’t see the settings. GE Appliances’ FirstBuild has created Talking Laundry which speaks the various settings on the machine when selected. Thanks to the programming work of a 14-year-old FirstBuild community member, the Talking Laundry module can be plugged into the back of existing GE Appliances connected washers and dryers.

“As technology in laundry changes, it’s becoming more difficult for people who are visually-impaired to find the correct settings on a machine.  Digital interfaces and knobs that move smoothly don’t allow someone to easily find the ‘home’ position on a machine, making it nearly impossible to find laundry settings by feel,” said Sam DuPlessis, FirstBuild Engineer. "As Baby Boomers continue to age and small typeface gets harder to read, having an audio option also becomes invaluable.”

Talking Laundry
A young member of the FirstBuild community, Jack DuPlessis, developed code for the Talking Laundry.

After hosting a FirstBuild hack-a-thon, which touched on accessibility issues, Sam met with members of the American Printing House for the Blind and the Kentucky School for the Blind, to share ideas on how voice technology could improve the laundry experience. He then asked his 14-year-old son Jack DuPlessis, a programmer and member of the FirstBuild community, to tackle the project. Over the course of a weekend, Jack was able to use a single board computer and FirstBuild’s Green Bean technology, which coverts programming language into machine language, to create a Talking Laundry prototype.  

“The first time it talked it was awesome,” Jack said. “It felt really good to take on a project that could truly help people in their everyday lives.”

The FirstBuild team then took the voice box to the Kentucky School for the Blind, and connected it to GE Appliance washers and dryers, to provide students with access to Talking Laundry.

 “I cannot emphasize enough what this kind of access means to a blind or visually-impaired consumer. This device makes the choice a no-brainer and will help consumers with visual impairments have independence in the laundry room,” said Larry Skutchan, Director of Technology at American Printing House for the Blind.

The Talking Laundry module, a small metal box that easily connects to existing GE Appliances washers and dryers, is available for sale via the FirstBuild website: https://market.firstbuild.com/products/talking-laundry-module

About FirstBuild
GE Appliances’ FirstBuild is a global co-creation community that harnesses the brainpower of the maker movement to change the way major home appliances are conceived, designed and manufactured. A physical state-of-the-art microfactory in Louisville, Kentucky and online forum, FirstBuild speeds products from mind to market and enables customization through small batch production, without the costs and risks of traditional mass manufacturing. For more information about how to get involved, visit FirstBuild.com.