Apr 17, 2018 | By David

A team of students at the University of Washington have made use of 3D printing technology to make a simple yet potentially life-changing new 'smart' device. Their project was addressed to one of the most basic, but important, everyday needs, which is the purchase of laundry detergent. They developed a way for people to automatically monitor the levels of laundry liquid in a bottle and order more when they’re running out, saving time as well as preventing any potential laundry-based emergencies. It was part of the students' research, exploring ways to get physical objects to communicate with electronics.

The team’s ingenious system makes use of a variety of everyday household components, including a router and a cellphone, as well as a number of gears and springs. The 3D printed part of the device comprises a switch and an antenna. Both these parts were put together from cheap plastic filament, as well as a conductive copper filament for the antenna. The 3D printer used was also relatively affordable, costing a couple of hundred dollars.

When the device is attached to the cap of a detergent bottle, it is capable of keeping track of the amount of laundry liquid left in it, by measuring the speed at which if flows out. The closer to empty the bottle gets, the slower the liquid will flow. It is this liquid flow that is used to provide power to the mechanism, so there is no need for batteries or any electronics equipment. If the speed dips below a certain level, this power will drop. The device is capable of communicating this drop, and using it to make sure your laundry doesn’t go unwashed. It does so by triggering a switch which then interfaces with an antenna attached to the main 3D printed mechanism. The antenna sends out a signal, which can be picked up by a regular wireless router and relayed electronically through a phone.

''Let’s say you have a flashlight and you’re turning it on and off to send a Morse code,'' said Vikram Iyer, team member and PhD. student in Electrical Engineering at the UW, whose 3D printing work we've reported on in the past. ''That’s something like your Wi-Fi router and phone are doing. The 3D objects are like mirrors reflecting or deflecting that bright light and using the antenna to send a message to a phone.''

The phone is set up to have the Amazon app installed and ready to respond to this message from the device. Through the app, it then places an order for more laundry detergent to be delivered to your address. As well as the breakthroughs related to the Internet of Things, changes brought about Amazon and other online retail giants in terms of how straightforward it can be for someone to make purchases of important items was part of what initially inspired the young engineers to set to work on their innovative device. The device enables people to buy what they need automatically, without any intervention.

(all images: Mark Stone/University of Washington)

The designs for this device were made available online for free download and use, and are straightforward to put together. The team wanted to inspire others to modify their device as they saw fit and hopefully come up with some useful ideas of their own.

''There’s been a lot of interest in 3D printing,'' said Iyer. ''But a lot of these 3D objects have really complicated mechanical components and no way of interfacing with the electronic world. We wanted a way for objects to communicate with electronics.''




Posted in 3D Printing Application



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