Help me be lazier but learn something in the process!
June 9, 2006 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Laundry status / notification system; Please help me find a creative, high/low tech way to retrofit the community washer and dryer with remote progress info

I live in a building with 6 other residents (two flat + bsmt) and we all share access to a washer and dryer. This project is somewhat convenience / laziness / learning something driven. I was thinking about getting a couple LED's and mounting them on a conduit pole (or something similar) with an off / on possibly "running" status indicator. I don't really want to hack into the machines themselves, but it seems like I could put something between the outlet that would cause a green led to come on when the washer is in use, etc. This way the neighbors upstairs and myself don't have to trudge down the basement to check the status of our clothes. This would be especially helpful in the winter months. I realize I could set a timer, etc but that wouldn't advance my knowledge nor have the desired "coolness" effect. Any other creative solutions are heartily welcome, thanks!
posted by AllesKlar to Technology (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A web-cam on the dials?
posted by cardboard at 9:21 AM on June 9, 2006

Second the webcam - or - maybe a baby monitor listening for specific sounds. Everyone buys same monitor - one transmitter - should work?
posted by jimmy0x52 at 9:28 AM on June 9, 2006

There is a kind of safety shut off for washing machines that cuts the water if there is no power drawn. (Indicative of a leaking hose.)

So something between the plug and wall socket could detect if the machine was running.

Why not use X10 modules and give everyone in the building a little remote controlled signal light?
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:30 AM on June 9, 2006

You should be able to use wiring to do this. Here is a thread that might help. I guess what you want to do is:

Sensor -> Wiring Board -> computer(?) -> LED

Or maybe:

Sensor -> Wiring Board -> Bluetooth Radio -> computer -> LED

I bet that a very simple magnetic sensor, positioned on or very near the cord of the washer, will tell you when there is "juice" flowing (or, more precisely, *more* juice flowing). Then you just need a way to get that signal up to you in your apartment. You probably don't want to dedicate a machine to the laundry room, but perhaps you've got an old box that's not being used. If you do, great. If not, you'll need to figure out a way to broadcast this message. Apparently, there are ways to get the Wiring stuff to interface with Bluetooth and maybe Wi-Fi (802.11) cards as well.

Be sure to post to the Make Blog when you're done!
posted by zpousman at 9:31 AM on June 9, 2006

I'm not sure how they do it, but there's something like this in one of the dorms at MIT:
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:39 AM on June 9, 2006

This is such a common problem, I wish you well in implementing a solution. Good luck, however -- you're neglecting critical social aspects. I always use a timer when doing my laundry, but inconsiderate fellow tenants are legion. Your idea being, once the green LED signals completion, your neighbors will promptly march downstairs and free up the machine. To which I say, "Ha!"
posted by Rash at 9:41 AM on June 9, 2006

Rash - good point, luckily we're a tight enough bunch that we don't mind throwing their stuff in a basket or what have you; I hadn't consider a webcam, great suggestion(s)!

zpousman - that is exactly what I had in mind (sensor detecting presense / absence differentiation with current.)

Please keep the suggestions coming, I'll be sure to follow up with my end solution.
posted by AllesKlar at 9:49 AM on June 9, 2006

Maybe the device could also cause an annoying alarm in the user's own apartment until he/she empties the machine.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:50 AM on June 9, 2006

Perhaps this is crazy-talk, but I would think the current draw of a washing machine (or dryer) would be much larger when in use. Perhaps you could hook up an AC ammeter in each plug and turn on/off a light if the current draw is above some (experimentally-determined) threshold?

Seems like it wouldn't be too hard. If you really wanted to get sophisticated, you could have this interfaced to a computer instead of just LEDs. Then, you could figure out the elapsed time the machine had been running.
posted by JMOZ at 10:09 AM on June 9, 2006

Oops, I don't know how I missed zpousman's post. I saw he mentioned a sensor, but didn't see he'd already recommended measuring current draw. Sorry.
posted by JMOZ at 10:10 AM on June 9, 2006

Have you checked out the stuff at fluidtime?

"The other service is a personalised and flexible scheduling system to help Interaction-Ivrea students organise shared laundry facilities; mobile and stationary tools give them constant updates about the progress of their laundry cycle."

There are a handful of PDFs and presentations down the page. This one on architecture is interesting.
posted by mikepop at 10:23 AM on June 9, 2006

Another notion would be a sensor based on the weight of the washer and or dryer. An empty washer would not trip the circuit, but a filled one would. This has the added benefit of knowing if there is still a load in the machine even if it has finished the cycle.

A web cam is probably easiest though. As long as everyone leaves the door open when the unit is not in use, you have an easy way to determine availability (providing that everyone in the building has a computer connected to the web cam).
posted by JigSawMan at 10:53 AM on June 9, 2006

Another thought (just after clicking post) is that the web cam could be argued to be a security device (if the machines are in unsafe area).
posted by JigSawMan at 10:55 AM on June 9, 2006

One problem with a web cam is what if you don't want anybody watching you pull your unmentionables out of the dryer? Depending on the size and granny-ness of your panties, this could be a real concern. :-)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:30 AM on June 9, 2006

really weird. I was just thinking about this yesterday while doing my laundry. I hate hate walking outside and around my building to check if my laundry's done.

I was toying with the idea of some sort of alarm that senses vibration, but I have no idea how to do that sort of thing. The webcam does seem to be the best idea.

Hey, and if it involves the moving of underwear, I can stream the video, put it online and have people pay to watch. On second thought..gross.
posted by killjoy at 11:57 AM on June 9, 2006

Another sensor you could use is a vibration sensor. Once the machine stops rockin', then the next user can come a-knockin'. Like the current sensor idea, it'll probably need to wait for a certain amount of time to pass without activity, to avoid triggering on the little pauses between cycles.
posted by hattifattener at 12:17 PM on June 9, 2006

If I'd previewed, I could say "on preview, what killjoy said".

For vibration sensors you could use accelerometers or maybe something like these piezo strip devices.
posted by hattifattener at 12:23 PM on June 9, 2006

Maybe the device could also cause an annoying alarm in the user's own apartment until he/she empties the machine.

In my dream. But in reality, an annoying alarm would be disabled, rather than heeded, if the tenant's inconsiderate.

I also have no problem with removing another tenant's laundry, this is a standard practice. But where the system breaks down is when people neglect their stuff in the washer, and there's only one washer and dryer pair, as is AllesKlar's case, as well as mine.

I show up, desirous of doing my laundry. Do I
a) remove their still-wet laundry, heaping it up on top of the dryer, hoping its owner won't return in the half-hour my load will take, so I can then 'jump the queue' and use the dryer before him, or
b) go away and come back later, as I'd prefer avoiding a possibly ugly confrontation?

Sorry for the derail, but this is an aspect of apartment life which bugs me to no end. I do find the general idea of a remote "in-use" telltale appealing, but it's easy for me to imagine its sensor being vandalized.
posted by Rash at 12:36 PM on June 9, 2006

If you do go the route of detecting the flow of current in the power cord, you don't have to actually use an ammeter. Just wrap a few turns of wire around the cord and with a sensitive op-amp you should be able to easily detect the difference between running and not running.

I suggest something much simpler: just hook into the "lid up" switch on the washer. This will necessarily be closed when it's running, and more importantly it will signal when someone has actually opened the lid to take their shit out, not just when the cycle has stopped. The thing you actually care about is when the previous user has actually taken their shit out (unless you're the kind that will vacate someone else's items if the cycle has ended and they haven't gotten to it yet.)
posted by Rhomboid at 7:08 PM on June 9, 2006

Thanks all for your great suggestions! Rhomboid - the first thing I did was take that sucker off and promptly drop it between the washer "bin" and the outer metal body. (I'm significantly more comfortable with disassembling a washer because of it) I'm certain I could have done something with it, but part of my aim was to make this relatively inexpensive and "undoable." When it's my own washer and dryer, it will be a different story.

Here's what I went with, a 2 fold solution:

I acquired a baby monitor and have it suspended in the laundry room with the handy placed in the common balcony area.

While this alone would probably be sufficient (if the monitors gone, someone has it and is being dillegent) right ...

So, using magnetic reed switches, I have a 3 led indicator sitting in a single gang outlet box; The washer has two states, washer door open, washer door closed. The washer door open lights a green LED and when closed, the green light goes out and an amber LED comes on. Underneath the two is a larger green LED that is off when the dryer is closed, on when the dryer door left open.

It took me a while, for various reasons, I incorporated the wiring / conduit with an outdoor motion light, but it made for interesting conversation at a party we had last weekend.

Thanks to all who helped! I have pix, for the curious and will post them in this thread very soon.
posted by AllesKlar at 2:07 PM on June 20, 2006

Here are a couple pix of the finished product. Email me if you've got burning unanswered questions.
posted by AllesKlar at 10:24 AM on July 3, 2006

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