Rub-a-Dub: An Interactive Laundry Assistant

Developers: Anandita Ananthakumar, Karisma Desai, Niranjana Shashikumar

Advisors: Andrew Scercy and Sarah Hartsock

Supervising Professor:  Kevin Caves


Severe intellectual disability affects life skills that include conceptual and practical skills. Our client Peter has severe intellectual disability and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and as a result has difficulty grasping the perception of amount or numbers. He therefore, while doing his laundry, over stuffs the laundry machine and over pours detergent. This has caused mechanical issues with the machine and flooding to the home. We have developed a 3-part device that alleviates the above problem and enables him to do his laundry independently when in the past, he required supervision.

Our client, Peter has a severe intellectual disability and presents many characteristics typical of an individual with severe intellectual disability. Individuals diagnosed as such often require supervision in social situations, are incapable of grasping the concept of colors, numbers or time and therefore unable to judge amounts of objects [1-2]. In addition, he has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, which means he has difficulty remaining focused [3].
While our client faces, difficulty completing some tasks, he is social and friendly and is completely mobile. His social competence makes him seem more intellectually capable than he is though he can follow directions when prompted. However, accomplishing certain daily tasks at his home can be troublesome as he needs reminders and assistance. Peter loves to do laundry and even likes to do others’ laundry. Coupling this with his difficulties with judgement and staying on task, he often over stuffs the laundry machines and over pours detergent. This has led to mechanical issues with the machines as well as flooding and damage to the home as can be seen in Figure 1 [4]. Though the staff at the house have tried to mitigate the problem on their own over time by training the client to split his laundry, they find that there are still instances in which the machine is over loaded.

Project Goals
The goal of our project is divided into 3 main parts:
1. Alert the client when there is too much laundry in a manner he is able to understand
2. Restrict the amount of detergent he is able to pour so that he does not over pour.
3. If both of the previous precautionary steps fail, shut the power to the washing machine off to prevent mechanical damage or flooding.
The washing machines cannot be altered themselves, so the project must measure the weight of the laundry prior to the placement in the washing machine consistently and accurately. A system must be created to shut the power off to the washing machines that does not tamper with the electrical wiring of his residence.

Design and Development
Our project design consists of three main components; the weighing scale stand at the bottom, the tilted detergent dispenser stand at the top and the water level sensor. The weighing scale stand and the detergent dispenser stand both serve the purpose of ensuring that Peter does not stress the washing machine while doing laundry. The water level sensor serves the purpose of shutting off power to the machines in the case of a flood. Currently, there are no devices that combat all 3 of our main issues simultaneously.
To use this device, Peter places his filled laundry basket on the weighing scale where an audio prompt will be played in response to the amount of clothing that is weighed. If the weight exceeds 12lbs of clothes, Peter hears a prompt saying “Stop this is too heavy” and must remove some clothes and place his clothing on the scale once more. If the weight is under 12lbs, Peter hears a prompt saying “Good job, you can put the laundry in the washing machine”. Once Peter places his laundry in the washing machine, he pours out an appropriate amount of detergent which is limited by a 2oz cup into the washing machine. Then he is able to start the cycle. In the event that Peter places too much clothing or too much detergent and the washing machine begins to flood, the water level sensor at the drainage pipe will detect bubbles or water. This sensor, connected to a power relay will send a signal to shut off power to the machine and stop further flooding in the home. At this point, an individual working in the home must be the one to start the washing machine. The individual components of our device along with their images will be discussed in detail below.
1.Weighing scale stand
The weighing scale stand is composed of four main parts as can be seen in Figure 2; the stand itself, a light weight laundry basket, the scale and external electronics which include the Arduino and a MP3 shield. The stand is 34” in height, 22” in depth and 16” wide. The top of the stand is made of birch wood. The weighing scale (12”x12”) sits at the bottom of this stand. A light weight laundry basket that is 13”x14”x26” is where the clothing is stored, and this is placed on top of the scale. The scale is connected to an Arduino Uno, a micro controller. This sends a signal to an MP3 shield that stores the recorded prompts and plays the prompt corresponding to the weight measured. There are two recorded prompts – one saying ‘Good job’ and the other one is ‘Stop. This is too heavy’. The prompts were recorded in the voice of Peter’s primary caregiver so that he can easily understand the prompts and act accordingly. Movement of the scale would result in varying measurements, hence the scale is set in wood and fixed to bottom of the stand.

2. Detergent Dispenser
As seen in Figure 3, the detergent dispensers sit on top of a tilted stand so that their spouts are high enough to dispense the detergent into cups. The cups are 2oz in order to limit the amount of detergent that Peter is able to pour out. This 2oz amount is appropriate for the washing machine. On top of the stand are two dispensers, one for each type of detergent that is used in the home. The simple tap on each of the dispensers allows Peter to pour out the detergent easily without holding the heavy detergent bottle.

3.Water Level Detector System
In order for the power to shut off to the washing machine in the event of flooding we are using a water level detector that is suspended near the drain pipe as seen in Figure 4. An Arduino Uno reads the measured level of water from the sensor. If the water level is high, then the Arduino sends a signal to a relay. The relay has two sets of outlets – one in the normally ON state and one in the normally OFF position. When the relay receives a signal, it changes the state of the outlets. The washing machine is connected to the relay in the normally ON position. When the water level is high, the relay changes the state of the switch and therefore turns off the washing machine preventing it from getting damaged. The washing machine can be turned back on only by unplugging the relay and plugging it back in, which has to be done by an individual that works in the home. By limiting this action to a worker, it is ensured that the machine does not turn back on by itself if the water level recedes again, and therefore flooding is avoided.

The weighing scale system was evaluated to assess ease of use, sensitivity and functionality of the scale system including the accuracy of the audio prompts at appropriate weight measurements. The appropriate weight measurements were calculated using the capacity of the washing machine currently in the residential home and calculations can be found in our appendix. The weighing scale system is placed in a stand between the two washing machines at the home and with repeated client testing, it was seen that the client can place his laundry on top of the scale easily. The audio prompts are clear and the client is able to comprehend them and act accordingly. Moreover, with lab and client testing it was seen that accurate prompts were given out when appropriate amounts of clothes were placed on scale. The detergent stand was designed and evaluated to be easy to use, stable and to prevent over pouring of the detergent. Peter was able to easily operate the tap on the dispensers to pour out the detergent and the small 2oz cups prevented him from over pouring the detergent into the washing machine. Moreover, the dispensers were fixed firmly onto the stand making it stable. The water level detector system has to turn the power to the machine off in the event that the water level reaches a high level on the sensor and with testing at the home and the lab with cups of water, we were able to conclude that the system turns off the washing machine when the water level is high and does not turn the machine back on until it is unplugged from the relay and plugged back in. This device was well received by Peter as well as his caretaker Andrew Scercy who said that this device is really going to help Peter and his housemates further their independence. Moreover, he sees it being used continuously and regularly for a long time.

Discussion and Conclusion
All 3 of the main parts of this project play an important role in aiding Peter to complete his laundry more independently. In conjunction, two of these components ensure that Peter places an acceptable amount of laundry and detergent into the machine, preventing damage to the machine. In addition, the last component ensures that in the event that something was to go wrong, flooding and damage to the home can be avoided. This device which is specific to our client can continually be used with other in the home to ensure that fewer mishaps occur. Repeated lab and client testing showed consistent performance of the device and our client and his care taker are very satisfied with this product.

We would like to thank our instructors Kevin Caves and Paul Thompson, the Duke BME department, Matt Brown, Andrew Scercy, Sarah Hartsock, Dennis Bradshaw, Leighanne Davis, and our client Peter Parker.

First Author Contact Information
Karishma Desai
7 Justice St. Piscatway, NJ 08854

1. DSM-5. (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2017, from
2. Section 32 – Intellectual Disability Rights Service (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2017, from
3. (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2017, from https://www.nihm.nih.goc/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml
4. What Happens When You Put Too Many Clothes in the Laundry? (2013, August 08). Retrieved February 07, 2017, from

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