Wednesday, May 04, 2005

RFID: NAVI (Navigation Aid for the Visually Impaired)

Thanks to an engineering professor and a group of students at the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, RFID may play a significant role in increasing independence for people who are visually impaired or blind.

Jack Mottley, Ph.D., Electrical and Computer Engineering, supervised a student research project to develop NAVI (Navigation Aid for the Visually Impaired). The team successfully designed an RFID prototype that makes it easier for blind and visually impaired people to navigate the corridors and tunnels of the U of R buildings and campus.

Most commercial applications of RFID utilize a fixed reader and mobile, item-level tags or transponders. Mottley's team has reversed positions for their system.

NAVI consists of multiple fixed-position RFID transponders (tags) located throughout the testing hallway, and a hand-held RFID reader (transceiver), which emits low-frequency radio signals. When a reader passes near a transponder, the transponder detects the radio signal and sends back a unique, pre-defined electronic code. Each code activates a different site-specific audio recording, used to orient the NAVI user.

For example, as a NAVI user proceeds through a campus building, periodically passing transponders along the way, they will hear recordings that say, "Elevator is located 20 feet straight ahead", or "Proceed straight ahead ten feet, turn right, stairway directly ahead."

The NAVI system gives blind and visually impaired people the freedom to navigate the campus-- including unfamiliar buildings-- unescorted. That's quite an impact on quality of life!

RFID technology holds considerably more promise than current applications represent. Improvements in read distance and cost will be key to accelerating the adoption of NAVI-type systems on other campuses, museums, hospitals, and other public buildings.

NAVI is an impressive example of the power of RFID to benefit our lives. It is free from the privacy concerns related to commercial applications of RFID. It does not raise any issues of government surveillance, HMO interference or consumer monitoring. It is simply a good thing. Hopefully, it is the first of many.

Sally Bacchetta - Freelance Writer


At 8:34 AM , Anonymous Dave said...

The next question may be could the reciever sensors be attached to the optic nerve to create a virtual reality for blind people to 'see' via RFID? This would cut down on what a blind person would need to create dimensions which have been tried on systems in the past. They wouldn't have to carry around sending and recieveing devices, they would only need the lightweight reciever. RF tags would do the rest.

At 7:36 PM , Blogger Sally Bacchetta said...


Check out the May 2005 issue of Scientific American. Kwabena Boahen shares his research in "neuromorphic chips... could lead to implantable silicon retinas." Boahen is a neuromorphic engineer and associate professor of bioengineering at University of Pennsylvania.


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