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A Spanish spin on getting men to do the laundry

Using a fingerprint ID, a machine prevents users from operating it twice in a row.

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Still searching for the perfect Father's Day gift? Barcelona inventor Pep Torres has a suggestion. It's something the whole family can appreciate - something that, not incidentally, advances the cause of women's rights.

It's a washing machine that encourages men to share the burden of doing laundry. Endowed with software that recognizes the fingerprint of household members, the machine shuts down when the same person tries to use it twice in a row. "It obliges men to do things around the home," says Mr. Torres.

Shopping at the Corte Ingles department store in Madrid, Luis Pascual couldn't quite understand the washing machine's concept. But his wife, Anunciación Sánchez, got it immediately. "It's a way for husbands to collaborate at home," she explains with an approving chuckle. "In that case, no, I wouldn't buy it," responds Luis. "If I haven't learned to do the wash by now, I'm not going to."

Still, people like Luis may not be Torres's target audience. "We've had so many calls from women, from housewives, that we've had to rush it into production," he says. And response to the innovative washing machine may well depend on generation. In an attempt to modernize marriage in this once machista [male chauvinist] country, for example, the government revised the nation's divorce law in April, stipulating that marital obligations included sharing domestic chores.

It's a change appreciated by people like Pilar Pedroso and Guillermo Alcalde who were shopping on Monday for a microwave oven. Asked whether they would buy Torres's washing machine, the couple said no. "I don't need to," said Pilar, pointing to her husband. "He's the one who does the laundry."

That's encouraging to Torres. The head of Stereonoise, which invents items for other businesses, he was approached this year by a Barcelona store seeking a unique Father's Day item. "We thought it would be good to invent a gift that finished once and for all - or at least laughed at - the image of the typical macho man at home." Torres's next project is to design a drill for women. "I'm not a feminist," he says. "I'm an egalitarian."

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