Independent travel for vision impaired people is a major challenge with just under half wishing they could leave their home more often. Navigation of rail and metro stations, particularly during rush-hours can be a particularly big challenge. But what if visually impaired people were able to navigate independently using the smartphone they already have in their pocket? That is what the Wayfindr digital navigation system which is being currently trialled in London aims to deliver. Pioneered by the Royal London Society for Blind People's (RLSB's) youth forum and digital product studio ustwo and with support from Google, it uses beacon technology to guide vision impaired people through and around urban environments.
The trial guides participants through Euston Tube station, giving audio directions from a prototype smartphone app that interacts with beacons installed throughout the station. LU commissioned the trial to find out if the system can work reliably across the Tube network and to test and refine Wayfindr's (@ standards for audio navigation. It builds on a pilot project at Pimlico station in early 2015, which led LU to invest in this full-scale demonstration at one of the busiest stations on the Tube network.
Through the RLSB, Wayfindr was awarded a $1m grant by Google.org in 2015 as part of the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities program, which invites applications from projects that seek to solve problems for people living with disabilities, through technology. The grant will accelerate the work of Wayfindr over the next three years. Wayfindr will build on its experience in London to set the standard to make cities worldwide more accessible to the vision impaired. Having developed its expertise alongside LU, Wayfindr will begin trials in other urban settings, including retail environments and hospitals.
The Wayfindr Standard will launch in early 2016, setting the first guidelines for audio navigation for vision impaired people. The standard, developed through rigorous user research in live environments, will give location owners and makers of digital navigation services the tools to empower vision impaired people to independently navigate urban settings with the phone in their pocket. Compliance with the Wayfindr Standard will let vision impaired people know that a place or app is a reliable aid to independent travel.
David Waboso, LU's Capital Programmes Director, said: `We've been supporting Wayfindr from its infancy, and are delighted to see it taking off. 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. Ultimately this innovative project is about giving our vision-impaired customers the flexibility to travel with the same independence and spontaneity as everyone else. We're excited to see what this technology can do to make London an even more open and accessible city.'
Umesh Pandya, CEO of Wayfindr - previously Associate User Experience Director at ustwo,addded: `Wayfindr evolved from a collaboration with RLSB's Youth Forum investigating whether they could use their smartphones to navigate the London Underground as part of ustwo's Invent Time (their social good R+D programme). Through our open and inclusive design approach, the Wayfindr standard has the potential to change the lives of vision impaired people across the globe.'
Interested parties are invited to join the Wayfindr Alliance of navigation app developers, locations, researchers, hardware manufacturers and vision impairment specialists. It's a great development so drop them a line if you'd like to be a part of it!
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