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Czech Monks Look to RFID for Guidance

Visitors to Vyssi Brod can rent electronic tour guides that describe the monastery's various sights, thus helping to provide the abbey with income.
By Rhea Wessel
Jan 26, 2010A group of monks living in a 13th-century Czech monastery near the border of Austria are employing Near-Field Communication (NFC) RFID technology to provide visitors with access to recorded information in their own languages. The system's designers say it may be one of the first NFC applications for tours and tour guides.

Tens of thousands of people each year come to the Vyšší Brod Cistercian Abbey, to visit its churches, chapels and grounds. For security reasons, given the monastery's valuable relics, tourists must see the site in groups. If a guide is not available, a staff member must go along to unlock rooms. Often, a group is composed of visitors from around the world; this has presented a problem for those who do not speak Czech, or one of the other languages spoken by tour guides. In addition, during the off-season, language-appropriate guides are not always available.

The RFID-enabled sightseeing system provides the abbey's monks with a regular source of income.
The situation has been troublesome for the five monks who moved back into the monastery when it reopened after being closed for four decades during the country's period of Communist rule. The monks' main source of income is tourism, and they need to ensure a steady flow of visitors in order to bring in sufficient revenue to support them, as well as pay for repairs to the site, which had fallen into disarray during the Communist era.

The Association for the Support of the Cistercian Monastery Vyšší Brod, an organization that supports the monks and their monastery, sought a simple solution to provide visitors with access to information in their own languages.

Klaus Zerbs, who heads the association, knew of a technology center in nearby Hagenberg, Austria, where NFC solutions provider Nexperts is based (see NFC Research Lab Rolls Out Smart Posters). Zerbs contacted the firm to see if it had technology suitable for the monastery's needs. Nexperts began designing a solution, and the association applied for funds from the European Union to help cover some of the project costs, which were roughly €17,000 ($24,000). The monks will be reimbursed for approximately €12,000 ($17,000) through the European Territorial Cooperation (ETC) initiative.

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