RFID Tags Guide the Blind

Italian town's buried transponders keep blind people on the right track

2 min read

Maps and street signs don’t work so well when you can’t see them. If you’re a blind person lost in most major cities, the best way to orient yourself is probably just to yell out, ”Where am I?”—and hope someone hears you. But a small town in Italy is building an electronic navigational system so that blind residents and tourists will never have to ask, ” Dove sono ?”

Last fall, the European Union’s Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen (IPSC), in Ispra, Italy, embedded 1260 RFID transponders into the sidewalks of Laveno Mombello, in the north of Italy, and linked them together in a network called SESAMONET. An antenna on the tip of a blind person’s cane activates each RFID chip it passes over, and the chip responds by radioing its unique tag number to a smart phone the person carries. That phone comes equipped with a database of navigational information that maps the tag numbers to locations throughout the town. The person then receives specific information about position and surroundings through a Bluetooth headset linked to the phone.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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