A network of Bluetooth beacons communicating with a navigation app has been installed in London Underground’s Euston station to enable vision-impaired people to receive turn-by-turn directions to help them find their way around.
The app provides audio guidance to the users, giving them confidence and the ability to move independently, even in complex environments.
Part of the Wayfindr project by the Royal London Society for Blind People and digital developer ustwo, the trial follows a pilot experiment earlier this year in Pimlico station.
“Our trial at Euston is really putting the system through its paces, to see whether it can fulfil its promise at one of London’s busiest Tube stations,” said David Waboso, Capital Programmes Director at London Underground. “Ultimately this innovative project is about giving our vision-impaired customers the flexibility to travel with the same independence and spontaneity as everyone else.”
London Underground hopes to eventually roll out the technology across its network. The trial, which will run until January 2016, is not open and involves only pre-selected participants. London Underground hopes to gather enough information during the trial to be able to assess the requirements for deploying the technology on a wider scale.
“What makes Wayfindr so strong is the focus on smartphones, meaning blind people don’t have to spend hundreds of pounds on different gadgets - they have everything they need in their pockets,” said Tom Pey, Chief Executive of RLSB and Chair of Wayfindr. “Smartphones have revolutionised the lives of blind people, giving us a level of independence that 20 years ago we couldn’t have imagined.”
The Wayfindr project has recently received a $1m grant from Google.org as part of the Disabilities program of Google Impact Challenge that seeks to find novel solutions to enhance the lives of people with disabilities.
The money will help speed up the development of the technology over the next three years with the ultimate aim of making the system fit to be used across cities around the world, not only in the underground but in all urban settings including shopping centres and hospitals.
In early 2016, Wayfindr aims to release the first standardised guidelines for using smartphones to guide vision-impaired people in urban areas.
The open standards should establish, for example, how to express distance, what features have to be identified by the beacons and how frequently instructions have to be updated.
“Wayfindr evolved from a collaboration with RLSB’s Youth Forum investigating whether they could use their smartphones to navigate the London Underground,” said Umesh Pandya, CEO of Wayfindr. “Through our open and inclusive design approach, the Wayfindr standard has the potential to change the lives of vision-impaired people across the globe.”
According to a survey by the RLSB, some 43 per cent of vision-impaired people in the UK would like to leave their home more often but lack the confidence and tools to travel independently.