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French Supermarket Tests NFC Tool for Visually Disabled Shoppers

Groupe Casino has teamed with the Institut de la Vision to try out an NFC-based solution from Think&Go so that customers with vision impairments can access data about the products they are considering purchasing.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 21, 2011French supermarket chain Groupe Casino, with assistance from the Institut de la Vision, has opened a laboratory store in Paris in order to model a solution involving Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, and to learn how it could be employed at stores to improve the shopping experience for the visually impaired or elderly. By using an NFC-enabled phone, a shopper with some visual disability can tap an NFC tag on a shelf label and view much larger, clearer text than that printed on product packaging, as well as read details regarding that product, such as ingredients, nutrition details and recipes. The system, known as Accessible Shopping, is being provided by Think&Go NFC, a French provider of NFC solutions.

Assistance to the visually impaired, however, may be just the beginning for the technology and its applications for customers in Casino's stores, says Thibault de Pompery, the creative director of Groupe Casino's innovation department. Once such an NFC system is installed at the retailer's locations throughout France, anyone equipped with an NFC-enabled mobile phone could access product information, fill a shopping cart virtually, pay for products via PayPal or some other payment system, and then either have the goods delivered, or pick them up at the front of the store. What's more, he adds, a shopper could make purchases outside the store by, for example, tapping his or her phone on NFC tags embedded in a smart poster at metro stations or other locations.

The Accessible Shopping Laboratory Store includes about 100 NFC passive RFID attached to product shelving.

Initially, the deployment consists of approximately 100 NFC 13.56 MHz passive tags manufactured with NXP Semiconductors Mifare Ultralight RFID chips, and attached to shelves in a mock Casino store, enabling researchers to test the use of NFC technology to improve the shopping experience for the visually impaired. The customers of concern are those who can see, but who may have trouble reading small text found on food packaging within a supermarket, or who may have central or peripheral vision impairments. Groupe Casino has been working with the Institut de la Vision to determine what impediments the visually impaired face at a supermarket, and how these issues can best be addressed. After discussing various solutions with Think&Go NFC, the researchers determined that NFC technology could make previously illegible data appear larger and more clearly displayed on a mobile phone screen.

To test the system prior to its installation at one of Casino's stores, the retailer, with help from Think&Go, has set up the Accessible Shopping Magasin Laboratoire (Laboratory Store). The lab is utilized by a panel of partially sighted individuals, as well as experts such as optometrists and ergonomics specialists.

According to Casino, the percentage of France's population over age 65 is now 25.5 percent, though that number is expected to increase to 35 percent by 2030. During the same span of time, the percentage of partially sighted people is predicted to rise from the current 3 percent up to 5.5 percent.

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