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Meet PAT, Siri for the Homeless

Researchers design an RFID system to remind homeless people about appointments with doctors, housing agencies and others.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 14, 2013

Most homeless people don't have iPhones and can't ask Siri to remind them about upcoming appointments with doctors, social workers or housing agencies. They don't carry laptops with Outlook, so they often miss critical meetings that could help improve the quality of their lives. Now, a group of researchers that have come together under the name Patchworks has developed a radio frequency identification-based system to remind the indigent when they have appointments.

The Patchworks project is the brainchild of Rod Dillon, a medical biologist at Lancaster University, in the United Kingdom. It includes Signpost, a charity focused on helping the homeless, and MadLab, a group of innovators who share and experiment with inexpensive open-source technology. The idea was to bring together researchers with those working in local communities to find ways to use cheap technology to make people's lives better.

Researcher Will Simm, pictured with an RFID wristband and PAT prototype, says the project is being continued by a consortium of agencies.
The Patchworks team, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council via the U.K. Catalyst Hub research project, developed a prototype for "PAT," or Personal Appointment Ticketing service. It's intended to enable homeless people living transient lives to track their appointments with the swipe of an RFID-enabled wristband or card. The PAT device then prints out a personalized reminder list of appointment dates, times and places.

The team developed a shoebox-size device that contains a Raspberry Pi low-cost computer, an RFID reader and a small printer, similar to that in an electronic cash register. The reader and printer are connected to the computer via a USB hub, and the entire device can be battery-powered.

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