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Swiss Town Rolls Out RFID System for Blind Bus Riders

26 June, 2008 by Peter Verhoeven

National and European Union regulations require that public transit operators across Europe to provide more information for blind and visually impaired riders. A Swiss public transport agency, the Verkehrsbetriebe St. Gallen (VBSG), is rolling out an RFID-based system that allows blind riders to check transit information at bus stops, determine the destination of passing buses and flag them down.

Trials of the system, called PAVIP (Personal Assistant for Visually Impaired People) and developed by Bones Inc., started in May. St. Gallen's entire fleet of 70 public buses were equipped with active ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID modules that can both receive and transmit data, and the city's 260 stops were fitted with passive high-frequency (HF) RFID tags. Fifteen blind users are currently testing the system, and starting in mid-August, St. Gallen will start a full-scale pilot with as many as 250 blind riders throughout the city.

The Milestone handheld device contains an HF RFID reader, a UHF RFID transceiver, a digital voice recorder and an audio player. Bones, which is based in St. Gallen, makes RFID-enabled personal digital assistants (PDA) for the blind. The cornerstone of the PAVIP project is the Bones Milestone—a small, handheld device containing an HF RFID reader, a UHF RFID transceiver (the same type of module installed on the buses), a digital voice recorder and an audio player capable of playing MP3 files, as well as all other major digital audio formats. The Milestone's built-in RFID HF reader consists of a Texas Instruments RFID interrogator IC, the TRF7960, which supports the passive 13.56 MHz tags complying with the ISO 14443A, ISO 14443B, ISO 15693 and ISO 18000-3 RFID standards. The handheld's active UHF RFID reader is comprised of a Radiocrafts RC1280 transceiver module. The Milestone costs 350 euros in a basic configuration and approximately 500 euros for the version used in the transit trials.

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