By Adrian Galbreth
New types of devices may offer hope to the millions of people around the world who are visually impaired, in a bid to make their daily lives easier.
The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed new NFC-based applications, which take the form of an innovative, speech-based item identification system and new "talking packaging" for medicine and food.
The devices have been tested by a group of people and offer a range of possibilities for both normal-sighted and visually-impaired people.
For example, food packaging can include links to information relevant to the individual customer, ranging from the origins of the product to ecological aspects and even allergy risks.
VTT explained that the test group"s favourite device was Top Tunniste"s Touch "n" Tag demo, a mobile phone application that enables visually impaired users to identify everyday items, including food, with the help of voice memos.
"The phone must be equipped with an NFC reader. To record a memo tag, the user touches the NFC label on the packaging and dictates the information into the phone. The recording can then be listened to by touching the label again with the phone," the company explained.
Indications from the test run were that that the application was most commonly used to mark food packaging and, according to the majority of users, it was useful in recognising items and recalling product information.
An additional benefit was seen in the possibility of recording the desired information in the user"s own words.
According to VTT, converting written information into speech is easy in technical terms and would be of great benefit to old people and visually impaired persons of all ages.
The main problem at the moment is that most current mobile phones do not support advanced NFC applications and the new solutions are designed for platforms not yet on the market, so bringing platforms up to date to accommodate the software will be the next step in the process.
by Martin Burns