Saturday, August 16, 2008

Washing up, The Mad Engineering Way

I've always disliked doing laundry, because for the longest time I didn't know how to do it right and would wind up with soapy, bleach stained clothes.

Well, we have a saying in the engineering department, "Work is good, but drudgery is evil." Meaning that it's good to work very hard on interesting problems, and if a problem isn't interesting, you should work a thousand times harder to automate it so you never, ever, ever have to do it again.

Okay, so what tasks are involved in laundry? In the ancient past, this would involve boiling water, cutting soap into it, adding the clothes, scrubbing until clean, draining the water, and hanging the clothes outside until they dried. If the clothes were white, there was chlorine bleach that would make it even whiter, but if it was added to colored clothing, it would...make it white. Anyway, this whole process was deemed to be a royal pain in the ass.

So the washing machine was invented. Selecting washing time, load size, and water temperature from a handy gage, I can then put the clothes into the machine, add some detergent, pull the knob to start, and come back in about an hour to washed clothes. Similarly, there is a drying machine that blows hot air into a motorized drum, and if I put my clothes in it, select the time and temperature (some clothes will be damaged if the air is too hot), and pull the knob, it will dry my clothes, at which point I can fold them and put them away.

Unfortunately, this too has some problems. I can't readily determine if my load is "large" or "medium," and often wasted water with too large a selection, or not enough (and would have to wash again.) I used to add too much soap because I wasn't sure how much to use. And worst of all, if I had run a white load before, the machine often had spots where a bit of bleach remained, behind the drum where I couldn't see it. If I put my clothes in before the water filled, it would make a little white blotch on my nice clothes.

My idea was also influenced by an invention I saw for sale at the appliance store: A combination washer/dryer. This eliminates the need to transfer the clothes between the two.

So my ultimate wash idea is a hamper, that drops into a washing machine with a scale and a sophisticated computer. The hamper backs up until the washing machine has a "full" load, determined by the scale, at which point all the clothes are added, along with a dose of soap. A separate hamper would be required for bleach loads. Sensors could detect the soil-level and adjust the amount of soap and/or bleach. Using the combined wash/dry technology, the clothes would also be dried here, and ejected into a clean bin.

Automatic folding and putting away of the clothes will have to wait for the invention of robotic butlers.

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