VTT technology lends product packaging a voice
As the proportion of senior citizens grows, their special needs are gaining
momentum. Human eyesight, for example, weakens with age. VTT Technical
Research Centre of Finland has been developing new NFC-based applications that
make life easier for the visually impaired. A group of affected persons
recently tested an innovative, speech-based item identification system and new
"talking" packaging for medicine and food.
Solutions that link products and digital product info are becoming ever more
common. They offer a range of possibilities for both the normal-sighted and
the visually impaired. Food packaging, for example, can include links to
information relevant to the individual customer, from the origins of the
product to ecological aspects and possible allergy risks.
HearMeFeelMe project, a collaborative effort by VTT, TopTunniste (Finland)
Tecnalia (Spain) and Demokritos (Greece), introduced five different
applications for acquiring medical information, all of them based on NFC
technology (Near Field Communication). By touching the info code on the
packaging with his or her mobile phone, the user downloads product and dosage
information which can be heard on a phone or computer. End users participating
in the project represented the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired
(FFVI), the Caritas Foundation, Joutsen Pharmacy 6 in Oulu and SSI, a Spanish
provider of geriatric services.
Speech tagging application
finds most favour
The testers' favourite 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 test run indicated that the application
was most commonly used to mark food packaging. According to the majority of
users, it was useful in recognising items and recalling product information.
Additional benefit was seen in the possibility of recording the desired
information in the user’s own words.
application was developed during the HearMeFeelMe project, completed at the
end of 2011. This was the so-called speaking medicine packaging. When touched,
this provides spoken dosage instructions and other important information. The
data was stored on the NFC chip by pharmacy staff and could be listened to by
the user at home. The demo version was only available for PC, but the
application is designed to run on programmable smartphones equipped with an
NFC reader and a code scanner.
Not yet tested by end users
was an almanac demo designed to ensure properly-timed medication, using the
elderly person's own social network. This enables e.g. nurses and family
members to remind the patient of scheduled doses of medicine or meetings. The
user receives the reminder as a message on his or her mobile phone and replies
with an NFC acknowledgement, e.g. by touching the pill dispenser with the
phone, to inform the nurse or family member that the medicine was taken.
the future, visually impaired people may use NFC applications for a variety of
purposes, including item recognition, spoken product information on food or
medicine packaging, personal reminders, calendars or spoken manuals for home
Latest NFC applications not yet supported by
current phone models
According to VTT, transforming
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.
However, most current mobile phones do not support advanced NFC applications.
The new solutions are designed for platforms not yet on the market.
devices are usually unbeatable when it comes to everyday IT-based services,
since they are always flexibly at hand and the threshold for using them is low
across all age groups. Solutions designed for devices that are already part of
everyday life, become popular fastest.
medicine packaging-demo. When touched, this provides spoken dosage
instructions and other important information.
labels are glued to an identifiable package.