RFID tags point the way to the blind

RFID tags placed on the sidewalks of Italy help blind people to move around in unfamiliar places. This project is carried out as part of a research project funded by the European Union called the SESAMONET (Secure and Safe Mobility Network), which aims to improve the lives of visually impaired people.

In the city of Laveno Mombello, the project developers created a path of about 2 km long RFID tags that leads from the city’s railway station to Lago Maggiore Bank, loop in a park near the lake, and also pass through several intersections. About 10 people, with poor or absent eyesight, test the system using specially designed canes, which act as readers for 125 kHz passive Tags, in ceramic cases that are buried in tracks. Thanks to these tests, developers get the necessary information to improve the system.

When a blind person approaches the tag, his cane recognizes it (the reader’s antenna is built into the cane’s tip, the power source and the Bluetooth transmitter are integrated near the handle). Unique ID Tag is sent, via a Bluetooth transmitter, to the user's PDA, in which a special program is running that determines a person’s location. The program quickly sets the direction (with the help of voice commands of the program), or various sound signals, which are then transmitted to wireless headphones dressed as a tester.

Tags are located in the ground after 60 centimeters on both sides of the tracks in a staggered manner (for example, if the tag is dug along the right side, then the next one will be on the left, after 30 centimeters). Each mark is dug to a depth of about 4 centimeters underground and can be read at a distance of up to 20 centimeters.

When a person approaches the end of the path, an obstacle or danger zone, such as stairs or pedestrian crossings, one of the nearby Tags will initiate a corresponding message (for example, “You have approached the stairs” or “Turn left and move on”). If the program receives an ID tag located near the intersection informing it that the person is approaching the intersection and plans to cross it, the PDA sends a signal via Wi-Fi to the receiver inside the traffic light to stop the approaching transport and allow the person to safely cross the intersection.

Two more similar "RFID paths" are in northern Italy, in a regional park called Prealpi Giulie. One of them is a 600-meter path from one part of the park to another, the other “path” is located in the information center, in one of the park’s hostels.

In total, about 2500 tags were used for the entire project. The cost of its creation is approximately 100,000 euros ($ 1,48280), while it is worth noting that this figure could be significantly higher if it were not for the original move made by the developers. The SESAMONET project used tags in accordance with ISO 11784 and 11785 standards, which were originally used to track livestock. Tags, implanted animals and remain in their bodies throughout their lives, they are removed at the slaughterhouse. Due to hygiene and health reasons, these tags cannot be reused in other animals.

Starting next year, the European Union is going to adopt a law obliging to remove tags from all animals intended for slaughter. According to preliminary data, it will be about 50 million tags annually transferred to SESAMONET and other programs that may be used for purposes other than tracking livestock. These tags are well suited for use in projects like SESAMONET, since, apart from their wide use at 125 kHz, they still work fine, even under water or snow.