A network of Bluetooth beacons provides turn-by-turn navigation in complex indoor spaces

Bluetooth tech to provide step-by-step navigation to blind people

An open standard for Bluetooth-based indoor navigation is being developed to provide visually impaired people with turn-by-turn directions in complex indoor spaces. 

Previously tested on the London Underground, the system, dubbed Wayfindr, gives step-by-step directions to users via their smartphones and could be used not only by blind people but also by other user groups struggling to find their way in crowded and complex indoor places.

The Royal London Society for Blind People and design firm ustwo, which initiated the project, have now launched a new organisation to develop the standard for global use.

“This joint venture has given ustwo the opportunity to take our social innovation to the next level,” said Scott Ewings, managing director at ustwo London. “Wayfindr began as part of our social research and development Invent Time programme. To see it progress to a global standard is truly astounding. It shows the tremendous power of how collaboration between experts from the profit and nonprofit sectors can create an organisation ready to tackle a global challenge.”

The system, consisting of a network of Bluetooth beacons, could be easily fitted in any complex indoor environment including shopping centres, train stations, hospitals and airports. While outdoors, visually impaired people can rely to a certain extent on GPS, but indoors they are generally dependent on human help. The Wayfindr standard promises to give them greater independence.

“Blind people no longer need a pocket full of expensive gadgets to get around, just their smartphones,” said Tom Pey, chief executive of the Royal London Society for Blind People.

“The Wayfindr standard allows us to amplify the impact of our Youth Forum across the world, ensuring that wherever we want to go we will get the same information – very reassuring.”

The open standard will feed into digital navigation services and the built environment to create consistent, seamless and reliable experience across locations, services and platforms.

“Built into the Wayfindr standard is a determination to create social, economic and personal value for users,” said Umesh Pandya, co-founder and CEO of Wayfindr.

“During our trials to date there has been an increase in the confidence of the participants. Thanks to our open model, I believe that as the adoption of the Wayfindr standard increases, this impact will propagate across the globe.“

Transport for London, Comic Relief, Nominet Innovation as well as app developers Blind Square and beacon manufacturer Kontakt.io are all supporting the project.

“Trialling Wayfindr on the Tube showed what a difference digital navigation could make for vision-impaired people,” said Kuldeep Gharatya, London Underground’s head of technical strategy, system performance and innovation.

“While we have staff at all Tube stations to help people whenever they need, it’s great to be involved in a project that could open up our networks to more independent travel.”

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