RFID Enables Hands-Free Transit Entrance for Vancouver Disabled

Hyperlight Systems designed the solution for the TransLink SkyTrain to leverage UHF RFD tag reads that would mimic the tapping of a fare card against an automated access gate.
By Claire Swedberg

That proved challenging on several levels, since the authority does not automatically have workers onsite at each station; a staff member may need to ride the transit system to reach a particular station in order to meet a passenger in need. TransLink boasts of being one of the most fully accessible transit systems in the world, Windross says. "For us, accessibility is an important priority," he states, so it sought a better solution. The agency began looking for a technology-based solution in early 2017, says Nadia Krys, TransLink's senior project manager for engineering project delivery.

While TransLink was exploring solutions for hands-free access with the existing Compass fare gates, Hyperlight Systems learned of the challenge from a local news report and offered to develop a solution, recalls Ashish Sachdeva, Hyperlight's founder and director. He describes his company as a wireless communication and IoT company "with a passion for smart-city solutions." The company was already building solutions using RFID, Sachdeva explains, and saw a potential solution for TransLink with UHF RFID. He adds that TransLink had initially considered installing a separate entrance with RFID readers for those unable to tap a Compass Card.

The Universal Fare Gate Access Program represents the world's first transit authority system that offers hands-free automated access to disabled passengers.

TransLink's Nadia Krys
Hyperlight and TransLink instead began working to leverage the existing disabled-access gates. The companies conducted a proof-of-concept to prove they could transmit a message to the gates in order to open them. "We understood that we needed to solve this problem without new construction," Sachdeva says. "We wanted to build a solution that used the existing fare gate, with integrated software, so that we could use RFID to mimic the tap."

Hyperlight and the transit authority began testing a prototype of the technology in June 2017. The partners tested it at three stations last summer, working with a focus group of users who had mobility issues preventing them from tapping a Compass card. One consultant who helped with the pilot, and who is now employed by Hyperlight as its user-experience specialist, was Brad Zdanivsky, a software specialist and rock climber who is also a quadriplegic.

Zdanivsky assisted the team in identifying the best ways in which passengers could carry the RFID cards to ensure strong reads. The RFID system included a Feig Electronic RFID reader and two antennas at each gate, facing in two directions so that the gate could be used bi-directionally (as either an entrance or exit) if necessary. Each gate is marked with an RFID logo.

The RFID system was designed to be installed quickly, Sachdeva recalls, with one or more gates deployed at 23 stations within just four months. "We feel the innovation was not only in the solution's design, but in the standardized implementation itself," he states. The company, in partnership with TransLink, built the system with standard brackets for mounting, for instance, so that installers could quickly have the technology in place.

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