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RFID to Bring Literacy to Down Syndrome Children

The Kiteracy system, designed by researchers at universities in Costa Rica, Spain and Ecuador, displays words and plays audio files when a child places a tagged toy on a reader.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 08, 2015

An Ecuadorian researcher and University of Costa Rica Ph.D. candidate named Janio Jadán-Guerrero is developing a radio frequency identification system, known as Kiteracy, which is intended to help children with Down syndrome learn how to read by using radio frequency identification technology. He hopes to provide his system, which he developed while completing his Ph.D. in computer science, to potential customers in kit form next year.

The system, which Jadán-Guerrero calls a tangible user interface (TUI), consists of high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID tagged toys and an RFID reader, plugged into a tablet or laptop computer. When a child places a tagged toy on or near the reader, the device sends that toy's ID number to the computer, and Jadán-Guerrero's software identifies information about the item, and instructs the computer to display the word for that toy and to play a sound file of someone speaking that word. The system comes with software on a hosted server to manage administrative data regarding which child completed each lesson.

The researchers used a 3-D printer to create a variety of plastic toys, such as farm animals, each with an internal space that could accommodate an RFID tag, and also purchased low-cost toys that could be disassembled and fitted with a tag.
Jadán-Guerrero has a daughter with Down syndrome, so for his Ph.D. project, he sought a technology-based system to help children with learning disorders or other disabilities learn how to read. He wanted a solution that, with the help of technology, would automatically present a word for a child that he or she could associate with a particular object. "The use of a TUI seems to give a physical sensory experience to develop literacy skills in children with Down syndrome," he says.

He investigated a variety of technologies, including Microsoft Kinect sensors and QR codes, but found that these required too much effort by the children to ensure that they operated properly. Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, compliant with the ISO 14443 standard, is designed to have a short read range for security reasons, he says, and thus would not work for his solution either, since a tag could be difficult to read if the toy to which it is attached were not oriented in such a way that the tag was directly on top of the reader.

Jadán-Guerrero then tried passive low-frequency (LF) 125 kHz tags compliant with the EM4102 protocol, as well as HF RFID tags compliant with the ISO 15693 standard. The larger LF and HF tags, he found, could be read within a distance of about 10 to 15 centimeters (3.9 inches to 5.9 inches), making it possible for a child to place an object or toy in a variety of orientations near the reader and still capture the tag's encoded ID.

"We wanted a technology that was not intrusive, and this seemed to be the best option," Jadán-Guerrero states. He, along with his colleagues at the University of Costa Rica, Polytechnic University of Valencia and Polytechnic University of Madrid, created some 3-D printed objects (as well as using some low-cost toys) and placed HF RFID tags inside them.

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