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Using Radio Waves to See

The HearMeFeelMe project is developing NFC applications to assist visually impaired seniors with daily tasks.
By Mark Roberti
Aug 01, 2012—One of the virtually inevitable results of growing old is impaired eyesight. While technology can't prevent visual impairment, it can help support those who must deal with it, says Minna Isomursu, coordinator of the HearMeFeelMe project, which is using Near- Field Communication (NFC), a short-range form of RFID, to develop applications to help seniors identify everyday items and manage their medications.

The idea behind the HearMeFeelMe project, says Isomursu—who is also a research professor at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, a prestigious applied-research institute—came about during work on a larger NFC initiative called SmartTouch, funded by the European Union (see Finnish Parking Pilot Taps RFID Tags and NFC Phones). VTT worked with Top Tunniste (an NFC systems integrator in Finland), Tecnalia (a private research company in Spain) and the National Centre for Scientific Research (a research organization in Greece that is also known as Demokritos) on the SmartTouch project.

Minna Isomursu
"We've been exploring the technical challenges and application potential of NFC at VTT for at least 10 years now," Isomursu says. "Before the HearMeFeelMe project, we had a big European collaboration project called SmartTouch, and the idea for using NFC for helping visually impaired people emerged in this project."

During work on the SmartTouch project, the researchers found they could use NFC technology to build intuitive, easy-to-use interfaces for digital services for older adults. "NFC-based interfaces can be designed so you do not need to read the screen or press the buttons of a mobile phone—both skills that become more difficult with aging," Isomursu says. "We built several service interfaces for older users, and found the technology was robust, easy to learn and use for older adults with physical or cognitive challenges."
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