Scientists design system using RFID devices to guide blind visitors inside unfamiliar buildings

Dec 16, 2010

An electronic system developed by Aura Ganz, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, allows visually impaired people to safely navigate unfamiliar buildings using a three-ounce electronic device and a Bluetooth headphone.

The system, called PERCEPT, uses (RFID) tags placed throughout a building as audio landmarks. When a visually impaired person tunes into these electronic signposts with an RFID , the system provides through the headphones. Ganz heads a research team working on the project through a three-year, $380,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute.

Unfamiliar buildings pose a huge challenge for blind and visually-impaired people. Current training programs to help them, including at UMass Amherst, require memorizing a large amount of information for many buildings each semester, and this can lead to confusing and frustrating situations.

Ganz is trying to deal directly with the problems associated with vision impaired people and their ability to get around. She has a pilot project in the works. "We do have a basic prototype of the PERCEPT system already built," Ganz says. "It will be installed by June of 2011 in the Knowles Engineering Building on the UMass campus, where human testing will begin this summer."

At any entrance of Knowles, the visually impaired person will be able to get directions to every room in the building at a kiosk where the PERCEPT system will orient them with audio instructions. The kiosk has an outline of the building layout represented using raised and Braille alphabet. Using the kiosk, you enter a desired floor, room number or another destination, such as a restroom or elevator, to get simple directions spoken into the headset. As the user follows those directions, the hand-held PERCEPT device can scan the RFID tags that serve as signposts along the way, and further directions are relayed to the headset.

The project has been conducted with suggestions from Carole Wilson, the certified orientation and mobility specialist from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, located in Springfield. She is also helping Ganz by recruiting 20 visually impaired subjects from around western Massachusetts to test the PERCEPT system in the Knowles building. These are people unfamiliar with the UMass Amherst campus.

It’s important that the test subjects have no prior knowledge of the building layout, Ganz says. "This system was created to be deployed in any building, and it’s geared toward visually impaired visitors who have never been there before. PERCEPT should work for entering any building for the first time. Our goal is to produce this technology for public buildings everywhere."

Other members of the PERCEPT research team are Russ Tessier, professor of electrical and computer engineering, who is developing the miniaturized hardware for the RFID reading device, and Elaine Puleo, research associate professor from the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, who is working on the experimental design.

Explore further: Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Enabling the blind to find their way

Oct 24, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- “Eyes on the future” is the mantra of the ‘World Sight Day’ held this month to raise awareness of blindness and vision impairment. New technologies, developed by European researchers offering the ...

Schools shun Kindle, saying blind can't use it

Nov 11, 2009

(AP) -- Amazon's Kindle can read books aloud, but if you're blind it can be difficult to turn that function on without help. Now two universities say they will shun the device until Amazon changes the setup.

NASA helps visually impaired students

Jul 14, 2006

Twelve visually impaired or blind U.S. high school students will have an opportunity to explore careers in rocketry as part of a NASA program.

Recommended for you

Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

Apr 18, 2014

The work of a research leader at Michigan Technological University is attracting attention from Michigan's Governor as well as automotive companies around the world. Xiaodi "Scott" Huang of Michigan Tech's ...

Large streams of data warn cars, banks and oil drillers

Apr 16, 2014

Better warning systems that alert motorists to a collision, make banks aware of the risk of losses on bad customers, and tell oil companies about potential problems with new drilling. This is the aim of AMIDST, the EU project ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Quantum_Conundrum
2 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2010
I think the latest smart phone can do all of this if they were to design a brail input/output device...
I_Dont_Have_A_Name
not rated yet Dec 16, 2010
What happens when a hacker gets bored and start making them walk into walls with a wifi / bluetooth sniper?

More news stories

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.