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TellMate Uses RFID to Help the Blind Recognize Objects

Users place passive HF tags on items and use a handheld device to record and play back identifying audio messages.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 17, 2007The Braille system has become a ubiquitous tool for enabling the blind to read and write. However, S.J. Chin, founder of Singapore-based GaiShan Technology, thinks RFID could become a much richer, more powerful tool for those with visual impairments. Chin has completed development of a system called TellMate, which employs passive RFID tags to help the blind identify objects they use in their daily lives but have difficulty recognizing, such as credit cards inside a wallet.

Some testers in Asia, Chin says, are using TellMate to help select which payment cards to pull from their wallets when paying for goods. Another tester, a massage therapist, is using the system as an occupational aid, with RFID labels attached to select bottles of scented massage oil, based on her client's preferences.


TellMate employs passive RFID tags to help the blind identify objects they use in their daily lives but have difficulty recognizing.
The TellMate system uses 13.56 MHz ISO 15693-compliant tags. GaiShan sources these tags from NXP Semiconductors, working with Vanskee, an RFID converter in Singapore, to build the inlays into long-lasting paper or plastic labels with strong but reusable adhesive backings. The tags can be attached to objects, Chin says, then removed from those objects and placed onto others. The labels come in a variety of sizes.

Chin worked with SkyeTek, a Boulder, Colo., designer of RFID modules, to embed SkyeTek's ISO 15693-compliant reader into the TellMate handheld computer. The company also helped Chin develop the software application used to commission and read the tags.

The TellMate has three main RFID function buttons: one for recording a description of an object to which a tag is attached, one to play that recording and one to stop the playback. To identity an object—a credit card, for instance—a user would attach an RFID label to it, hold the handheld reader within 2 centimeters of the label, press the record button and speak a description of the object into the handheld.

Chin says users can record anything they'd like regarding an object. For instance, a user might record the card's issuing bank, its expiration date or its account number. To later identity that object, the user would hold the handheld within a couple centimeters of the object's tag (located via touch), then press the play button to hear the recording associated with the tag. Headphones can be used to keep the information from being broadcast aloud. The stop button can be pressed at any time during a recording if the user opts not to hear the full recording.

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