EU Science Hub

RFID for improved mobility of visually impaired now also tested in Germany

Sep 11 2013

JRC's SESAMONET (SEcure and SAfe MObility NETwork), a 'virtual path' based on an innovative application of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is being tested since yesterday at the Kassel Calden regional airport, Germany. Passive transponders buried in the pavement and a dedicated electronic walking cane help to guide visually impaired people by acoustic signals inside the airport terminal. The project realised with Flughafen Kassel GmbH is the first official SESAMONET path in Germany and aims to contribute to make air travel more accessible for people with impaired vision. This is important in view of current demographic trends towards an ageing society with a growing number of persons affected by vision loss.

SESAMONET can easily be installed in public and private areas both outdoors and indoors (e.g. parks, shopping centres, public buildings) as it works independently of electric power and GPS signals. Although it is a sophisticated electronic tool, it needs little training before the user can benefit from real-time information on the environment. The system can be programmed to keep track of day-to-day changes, such as unexpected obstacles due to road-works, and can provide useful information about the location to make the user feel safe. SESAMONET is based on the use of passive radio frequency transponders (RFID) as electronic landmarks to form a virtual path. These landmarks are read by a dedicated walking cane developed by the JRC and conveyed to the visually impaired as an audio signal. The different components of the system communicate using Bluetooth technology.

The system is built on widely accepted and supported technologies and is therefore easy to upgrade. The challenge for JRC's research team was the definition of the concept and the integration of the components into a working system. The JRC developed the walking cane, all the communication protocols and software system and the database for data storage. The final system was then tested in a variety of real-world scenarios to determine how different sources of environmental noise can affect wireless communication.

According to the World Health Organisation (in 2012), 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision. The estimated figures for Germany are 145 000 blind people and about 500 000 affected by sight-related disabilities. Such impairments mostly affect the population older than 50 years of age. This issue is of particular relevance for Europe with its ageing population.

SESAMONET is a universal barrier-free design which takes into account varied abilities regardless of age.

The first prototype of the SESAMONET path was installed in 2007 in Laveno, Italy. Following the licence agreement signed with the Italian Blind Union (Unione Italiana Ciechi) in 2011, other paths were installed in several public locations in Italy, such as the National Centre for Services and Research on prevention of blindness and rehabilitation of patients affected by low-vision at Gemelli Hospital in Rome and the University of Calabria.