Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Augmented Reality: allowing the blind to navigate the world using RFID

Augmented reality is the process of using the virtual world to provide information on the tangible world. I usually use the example of a heads up display where one would see additional information for items, like the names and addresses of buildings just by looking at the building.

Over at Surpriv, I saw this really cool NSF grant summary for a system using RFID and XML to provide an augmented reality system for blind people.

Even in an ideal academic setting in which a University has unlimited resources to reduce the challenges in the classroom, blind students will miss out on the numerous educational opportunities outside the classroom.

This project proposes a navigation and location determination system using an RFID tag grid.

The retail industry has developed a low cost tagging system to electronically monitor products from manufacturing, warehouse and to the consumer. The design requirements to satisfy the needs of the retail industry are low cost per unit, reliable, powerless and the ability to transmit a wide range of data. By leveraging advances in RFID technology it is feasible to develop a system that utilizes RFID tags as a location based information grid.

Each RFID tag is permanently installed under carpet, wood floors, behind trim in hallways, along sidewalks and as part of any pedestrian path. Each RFID tag is programmed upon installation with its X,Y coordinates and information describing the surroundings. This allows for a localized information system with no dependency on a centralized database or wireless infrastructure for communications. For under $1 per tag it is possible to store 250 bytes of information that can be read as the user approaches the tag. Using proposed compression and flexible XML based protocols, an RFID grid in a room can store a complete inventory and location of the room objects and information about neighboring rooms.

Upon entry into a room the RFID tags at the door provide a summary of the room's content and the location of each object. This information is then read into the student's cell phone or PDA and when the student needs to find the electrical outlet, telephone, desk, vending machine, etc., the system - knowing its current location based on the RFID tag coordinates - can give the path to the object through voice prompts.

Now that is a really nice example of thinking outside the box.

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