Information is power, but it’s not always accessible. In our multi-screen world, which is becoming increasingly more visual and interactive, information is not always easily accessed by blind and partially sighted people. That’s what Fabio D’Agnano, founder of tooteko, is changing. Tooteko, a wearable that combines touch and hearing, helps the visually impaired experience objects that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. With tooteko, Fabio and his team won the first prize of the European Startup Awards in the Italian edition, the Italian Wind Startup Award 2015 in digital innovations and many more.
NXP: Hi Fabio, how did you come up with your business idea?
One of my students at the Master in Digital Architecture at the University of Architecture of Venice Iuav came up to me with the idea. Her name is Serena Ruffato and together we founded tooteko. We faced the challenge to combine touch and hearing for visually impaired people. Most initiatives solely focus on either touch or hearing. What started as a small university project evolved into a company.
NXP: Tell us about tooteko and how it uses NFC?
Tooteko is a magic ring that lets you listen to an object’s voice. Blind people can’t see, but they have advanced senses for touching and hearing. With a special ring – connected to their smart device – they can navigate any 3D surface with their finger tips and, in return, receive audio content. When the finger reaches a hotspot, the ring identifies the NFC tag and activates through the app the respective audio track.
The solution consists of three parts: (1) The ring that detects and reads the NFC tags and communicates over the air to the smart device, (2) a tactile surface tagged with NFC sensors and (3) an app for the tablet or smartphone.
NXP: Why did you choose NFC?
When we started developing in 2014, we evaluated different wireless technologies, among them infrared and sonar, which had their advantages and disadvantages but didn’t fully satisfy our requirements. Then we investigated NFC and found it to be reliable, fast and cheap.
NXP: What are your thoughts on NFC and security?
NFC is inherently secure but for us it was more than this. We need to be sure that the content is exact– blind people rely completely on this technology – and NFC has the precision we need.
NXP: What do you think needs to happen to for NFC to really take off?
We need a global infrastructure to be used at different levels. If NFC tags are used for tracking, monitoring and payment systems, they could be re-used in the same infrastructure to make the world smarter. The crucial point is to combine different benefits for different users with the same simple infrastructure.
Objects, like books and records, are still in popular demand. Meanwhile, digital data is powerful, and fundamental to how we consume information. NFC can combine both worlds.
NXP: What do you think has been the most important technological invention in human history?
NXP: If you weren’t in your current job, what would you do instead?
NXP: Thanks for taking time to talk to us.