Is there an off-the-shelf RFID system available that can help blind people navigate in areas where there is no designated blind path?
There is no off-the-shelf RFID navigation system of which I am aware that is designed to help the blind, but radio frequency identification technology has certainly been used to assist those without sight. Several examples are described below.
Three RFID-enabled walkways in Italy are helping the blind move around within unfamiliar environments. The paths are part of a European Union-funded research project, the Secure and Safe Mobility Network (SESAMONET), designed to improve the lives of visually impaired citizens (see Tags Lead the Way for Blind in EU-Funded Pilot). In the city of Laveno Mombello, developers installed RFID tags in a 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) stretch that leads straight from the city's railway station to the banks of Lago Maggiore, makes a loop in a park near the lake and extends across intersections.
In 2008, trials of a system known as the Personal Assistant for Visually Impaired People (PAVIP) was launched in St. Gallen's entire fleet of 70 public buses, which were equipped with active ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID modules that can both receive and transmit data. In addition, the city's 260 bus stops were fitted with passive high-frequency (HF) RFID tags. St. Gallen planned to commence a full-scale pilot with up to 250 blind riders throughout the city that year, beginning in mid-August (see Swiss Town Rolls Out RFID System for Blind Bus Riders).
Blind Industries and Services of Maryland is employing RFID at its facility in Salisbury, Md., to help its vision-disabled workers accurately pack boxes with the correct types and quantities of items (see RFID Helps Blind Workers Do Their Jobs).
A group of undergraduate engineering students at Central Michigan University created a prototype system designed to help guide blind people, and to help them avoid obstacles in their paths. The system employs RFID and ultrasonic technology incorporated into a cane that its developers hope will eventually result in a commercial product (see Michigan Students to Develop RFID-enabled Robotic Guide Dog).
And a solution developed in Singapore, known as TellMate, utilizes passive RFID tags to help the blind identify objects that they use in their daily lives but have difficulty recognizing, such as credit cards located within a wallet (see TellMate Uses RFID to Help the Blind Recognize Objects).
I hope the above use cases help you in your efforts.
—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal