Reid My Mind Radio – 14 Year Old Makes Talking Laundry Machine

TReid in front of washing machine which appears to be talking... machine says "47 minutes remaining on the wash cycle!
Touch screens and digital displays look sexy and futuristic, but for those who are blind or low vision these can present a real access issue.

Jack DuPlessis, a 14 year old programmer stepped up to the challenge of making a washer and dryer talk! Hear how he did it and the possible impact this can have on the future of appliances.

Resources

More of Jack’s work on Git Hub
* Purchase from First Build

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR :
What’s up RMMRadio family.
We’re getting right into this today.

And I can tell you from the jump, there’s know original musical creations in this episode.
[Applause]
Oh seriously who did that… that’s not cool!

[Reid My Mind Theme]

TR:
Accessibility issues are everywhere. Transportation, information like the printed word or that which appears in movies but isn’t spoken and too often employment.
When you think about the problem solvers who find solutions to these types of access issues, you may not think he’d sound like:
[TR in conversation with JD]
How are you?
JD:
I’m good!

TR:
… Well, like a 14 year old young man.
That’s Jack DuPlessis,.

Jack developed a way to make an otherwise inaccessible washer & Dryer talk.

Many of the newer appliances on the market today whether stove tops, microwaves and laundry machines are using digital displays and no real tactile options.

I spoke with Sam DuPlessis now known as Jack’s Dad.
I wanted to learn more about First Build, where this project all began.

SD: First Build was started about three years ago by G.E. appliances. We’re a wholly owned subsidiary of G.E. appliances. We want to incubate new products and
we want to do it in an open and collaborative way. We have all the tools to design build and sell new products and new innovations. And we invite anybody to come in and collaborate with us. Truly we mean anybody. We’ve got an on-line presence. You can come in and sign on and use our tools and create with us or you could go online and submit ideas to our website – we call it Co creation.

TR:
Others in the community and those who visit the site vote for their favorite ideas. The more votes and idea gets;

SD:
We put them in queue to make them and see if we can make products out of them. So really let the creativity of this place and ideas of a large group, come in and help us accelerate product development where from a G.E. appliances point of view things used to take years, we want to just take weeks and months to get these ideas out there tested.

TR:
First Build isn’t just sitting around waiting for ideas to come to them.

SD:
Once a year we do something called a mega hack a thon.

TR:
Hackers usually refers to computer programmers .
A hackathon is a fast paced event that
can last for a few hours or over a weekend.
The intention is to design a new piece of software often with a specific goal in mind.

In the case of the First build hackathon, hackers includes
programmers, engineers, machinists and others.

SD:
We just take things apart and put them back together and try to create new concept products in a weekend.

This year’s Hackathon is September 9 & 10.

TR:
Last year’s hackathon inspired what would become a talking laundry machine. But it started with a Stove or cook top.

SD:
An induction cooktops that was really designed specifically to address some of the cooking issues for the visually impaired. It was a great idea it had a pan locator on a smooth cook top where the visually impaired person wouldn’t have to feel with their hands where the burner was starting to warm up. They could just feel with the pot and it kind of self-locates over the cooking surface. we’ve never seen that before. We happen to have here in Louisville. the American Printing House for the Blind. It’s been here for one hundred fifty years and it’s where they print almost all the materials and teaching aids for blind and visually impaired education in the United States. When their leadership came in and reviewed the cooktop, it had like a cap touch control. It’s not very accessible.

TR:
It was through this outreach and communication with those who are impacted by the inaccessibility, where Sam received a request.

SD:
As things get more electronic like laundry, the knobs just spin three hundred sixty degrees they don’t have a home position. They don’t even have a home beep. You’ve grown this capability but you haven’t really addressed a good universal control. If you can give me a home beep . On Something that would be great.

So I took that as an idea for laundry. Something that here at first build we could just program a test for that and have something maybe that we could
update have in the field and just have a home beep on laundry. Really easy to do. I came home and I asked Jack would he be willing to work
on something like that.

[TR in Conversation with JD]
So your father comes to you with the idea, what did you think about it when he first asked you?

JD:
Yeah, I never thought about visually impaired people using a washer and how hard it would be without something as simple as a home position. So that was just a new take on controlling a washer, but I thought it would be a fun project.

[TR in Conversation with JD& SD]
Jack did you get into programming because of your Dad? Dad, how did it happen
SD:
The cool thing that I did was I brought home a Raspberry Pi and connected to a T.V.

TR:
Sam’s not referring to an actual pie here.
He’s talking about the tiny and affordable computer that you can use to learn programming through fun, practical projects

Getting his hands on this in 4th grade along with a visual coding interface, Jack began working on small projects that included making his own games.
Eventually that led to him learning other languages and other projects like a website that lets users test their typing speed and proficiency

And of course, talking laundry machines!

JD:
So yeah, I went with it and got a working like prototype version in about a weekend or so.

[TR in conversation with JD:]
For some kids, that would deter them to even continue. “Ah this is gonna take too long”, but that’s not you, it doesn’t sound like that.

JD:
[long pause]
No!
[TR & SD: laughs]
## TR:
Jack is humble which is an endearing trait for a very bright talented young guy.
Plus, he has Dad. And Dad’s love to talk about their children.

SD:
What took a few hours that weekend, was a very limited functionality and as this thing developed and we got the feedback, Jack rewrote this to not only address just the knobs but to address many of the buttons that are on the laundry and went through four total structure rewrites. and it has turned him from a very simple piece of code into a very very elaborate piece of code and it’s all self-taught.

I’m an engineer and I lead the technical development here at First Build. The passion that we look for in successful engineers is you got to see the problem and want to solve it and Jack has that and spades. He really
sees problems and really likes to dive in to figure out what it takes to solve it.

When Jack makes a significant improvement in anything the corners of his mouth turn up ever so slightly.

TR & Dad laugh!

TR:
That code Jack wrote is now on a small device that attaches to both washer and dryer via a cable that plugs into the diagnostic ports in the back of each machine.

Turning the knob on the machine gives you immediate feedback:
[Sample Sounds]

It even allows you to press a button on the device while the machine is running and hear how much time is remaining.

[TR in conversation with JD & SD]
Have you gotten any feedback from anyone who is visually impaired who may have used the device?

JD:
Yeah…So we put a device in the Kentucky School for the Blind. So we’ve gotten good feedback from them.
And that same person who gave us the feedback about the cook top from the American printing House for the Blind, he has given us great feedback on it as well.
SD:
Not only has he been able to take their feedback you know one on one, but he’s since been able to release software that provides the features that they asked for.
[TR in conversation with JD & SD]
Congratulations to you young man! It’s a really cool thing you’re doing. Dad you too. Obviously you introduced him to it. What are you learning about accessibility?

SD:
I’ve made appliances for twenty five years and we’ve got we call it a heuristics evaluation. Where we look at the usability of controls. And from a I mean just a basic use of what could be in a control to make it more accessible I’ve learned that there are they they can actually be free and we can start putting them in appliances that we make today. If something has a tone capability instead of having it beep the the same beep as it slews through maybe a couple different selections. If it has a high and low tome Automatically it’s much more usable. With these types of insights you know we can put a home beep, it the minimum and that’s free.

We started to update our heuristics evaluation. I’m taking what we’ve learned in this point of view and seeing how we can update our control algorithm so that everything comes
out a little bit more accessible.

TR:
Of course, I had to ask about an iPhone app

SD:
That’s probably where in a few years I think many of our appliances will end up.

Wi-Fi has started to be added to our top end appliances including laundry and there is
a laundry app. One of the things Jacks work has done is uncovered these communications that Go back and forth in the app don’t exist. He’s actually telling
them the things that they need to do to create a more accessible app experience..

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
What’s your favorite piece of technology right now Jack?

JD:
My favorite piece of technology right now that I want is probably a Mac Book.

SD:
Santa Clause is getting some hints!

[Tr in conversation with SD:]
And it sounds like he’s been a real good boy!

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
Do you see yourself going more into what area? Do you want to stay with manufacturing coding, I heard games what do you want to do?

JD:
I’m not sure exactly what I want to do. As long as it involves computers, programming it will probably be good with me.

[Tr in conversation with JD:]

And accessibility too, right?

JD:
Yeah!

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
Laughs!

TR:
It’s refreshing to know that this talented young man and possible future leader in technology is already showing signs of committing to accessibility.

Right now, the First Build Talking Laundry Module is available for one GE washer and 2 dryers 1 electric and one gas.

The modules right now are being produced on demand and available for purchase
via the First Build website; firstbuild.com

It costs $99 and works for both washer and dryer. and comes with the cables and AC adapter.

The device is 5 x 5 x 2.5 inch and has built in speaker and volume control knob and includes magnets on the base to hold the unit to the side of dryer

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio

[JD: from the piece… long pause and he then says… No!]

Audio for independent living!

TR: RMMRadio Outro

The purpose of technology is to help us accomplish a specific task. The first tools used by our ancestors in Africa could be considered assistive technology.

Accessibility, just extends the us. For too long us only included those with fully functioning… fill in the blank.
More people are understanding and being informed that just because your eyes don’t function at a certain level, you don’t hear the way others may or any other disability, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to get the same things accomplished.

I can really appreciate this story for several reasons.

I can relate to the Dad, Sam, recognizing that his son’s interest. Then challenging him to get involved with a project that has a real world purpose. Encouraging him to not only get better at coding but gaining an early lesson about technology – it should improve our lives.

There’s another lesson that can be gained… it’s about disability but even more so it’s about humanity. Everyone has unlimited potential. Disability doesn’t reduce that in anyway. People do.

People who see limitations and then whether directly or otherwise restrict someone from reaching their potential.

People who internalize that idea and restrict themselves.

People who refuse to make their products accessible even after learning that by doing so they are restricting 20 percent of the population who has some form of disability.

Whether from a business or creative perspective, not working towards a fully accessible product is a very limiting move. Convincing me once again that the limitations are in the eye of the beholder.

Accessibility advocates will tell you the goal, is accessibility included in the design phase. The time when all those involved with the creation of the product are beginning to figure out what the product will look like and how it will work. It sounds like Sam is taking steps toward that. Especially realizing that it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

We can say that Jack getting involved at 14 is right in line with that. Part of the problem is that accessibility isn’t often included in computer science curriculum.

Getting introduced to the concept of accessibility at 14 years old, makes me optimistic about the future.

You might say this is one person, one story, but that’s never really the case unless the story goes untold.

Well Jack’s story has definitely made its way around the web and I’d like to think that the accessibility conversation has been advanced a little further.

Shout out to Sam and Jack DuPlessis First Build and GE for advancing access for those who are blind or visually impaired.

And here’s hoping Santa is listening to this episode of the podcast and Jack finds some cool stuff under that tree this year!

You know what else is cool? Yes, you do!
Subscribing to this here podcast. You can subscribe on Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio and follow on Sound Cloud.

Give the podcast a rating, a review and or tell a friend or two to take a listen.

Peace!

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One Response to “Reid My Mind Radio – 14 Year Old Makes Talking Laundry Machine”

  1. John says:

    Very well done!