JRC project improves mobility for the blind

Blind and partially sighted people can now safely stroll along a path along the shore of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, thanks to an initiative from the European Commission’s Joint Research
Centre (JRC) and the town of Laveno Mombello.

The two-kilometre prototype path, which runs from the railway station to the old ceramic factory and through the ferry station before winding along the lake shore, is a product of the SESAMONET
(Secure and Safe Mobility Network) project.

The path consists of RFID (radio frequency identification) transponders embedded in the ground 60 centimetres apart. The path user is equipped with a special walking cane with an antenna which
is able to read the RFID transponders. The transponder sends a signal, via the antenna, to a Smart Phone which is equipped with a database containing information on the location.

In this way, the path user receives information on the path through a bluetooth headset. Some transponders transmit messages describing the surrounding environment, while others simply give off
an acoustic signal to inform the user that he or she is on the right track.

As the RFID tags do not need any electrical power supply, they can be installed in a range of indoor and outdoor locations, such as parks, pedestrian areas, town centres and buildings. A
further advantage of the system is that it can be programmed to keep track of day-to-day changes like obstacles caused by roadworks.

According to the JRC, the system is easy to use and maintain. Furthermore, the RFID tags are cheap, as they can be recycled from the electronic tagging of cattle, where they guarantee the
safety of the food chain. The total cost of the path depends upon the size and complexity of the environment to be ‘tagged’ and the development and maintenance of the database.

The project is still in its early stages; eventually the path will have links to shops and public utilities, thereby helping the visually impaired to take full advantage of the services offered
by nearby facilities.

According to the World Health Organisation, over 160 million people worldwide suffer from visual impairments, of whom 37 million are blind. The majority of these people are over 50 years of
age, and so the issue is of particular relevance to those parts of the world, such as Europe, with an ageing population.

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