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Swiss Town Rolls Out RFID System for Blind Bus Riders

The approach utilizes an "all-in-one" handheld device that includes two RFID readers, a digital voice recorder and an audio player.
By Brett Neely
Jun 25, 2008By 2013, national and European Union regulations require that public transit operators across Europe provide more information for blind and visually impaired riders. A Swiss public transport agency, Verkehrsbetriebe St. Gallen (VBSG), is rolling out an RFID-based system enabling blind riders to check transit information at bus stops, as well as determine the destination of passing buses and flag them down.

Trials of the system, known as PAVIP (Personal Assistant for Visually Impaired People) and developed by Bones Inc., began in May of this year. St. Gallen's entire fleet of 70 public buses were equipped with active ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID modules that can both receive and transmit data, and the city's 260 stops were fitted with passive high-frequency (HF) RFID tags. Fifteen blind users are currently testing the system, and St. Gallen plans to launch a full-scale pilot with up to 250 blind riders throughout the city, beginning in mid-August.

The Milestone handheld device contains an HF RFID reader, a UHF RFID transceiver, a digital voice recorder and an audio player.
Bones, which is based in St. Gallen, manufactures RFID-enabled personal digital assistants (PDA) for the visually impaired. The cornerstone of the PAVIP project is the Bones Milestone—a small handheld device containing an HF RFID reader, a UHF RFID transceiver (the same type of module installed on the buses), a digital voice recorder and an audio player capable of playing MP3 files, as well as all other major digital audio formats.

The Milestone's built-in HF RFID reader consists of a Texas Instruments RFID interrogator IC, the TRF7960, which supports passive 13.56 MHz tags complying with the ISO 14443A, ISO 14443B, ISO 15693 and ISO 18000-3 RFID standards. The handheld's active UHF RFID reader is comprised of a Radiocrafts RC1280 transceiver module. The Milestone costs €350 ($551) in a basic configuration, and approximately €500 ($787) for the version used in the transit trials.

"What's important for the blind is not to have 20 gadgets around the belt, not looking like a cowboy with guns," says Bones' managing director, Stephan Knecht. "The blind want to be independent and mobile."

The system has two components involving both active and passive RFID. Users approach and wave their Milestone device in front of a sign printed with the bus line's timetable. The sign contains a passive 13.56 MHz RFID tag encoded with route information for buses passing that stop. The Milestone device then reads that data aloud to the user.

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