Good news for blind people wanting to travel on the London Tube. While at the moment they still have to rely on station staff to assist them on to their train, a new smartphone app created by the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB’s) Youth Forum and digital product studio ustwo could help them in the future navigate the city independently.
The app, called Wayfindr, uses Bluetooth and beacon technology to trace the user’s location in the subway and give him audible directions. A prototype has been recently trialled at Pimlico station, where sixteen beacons have been installed.
The system is pretty clever: it uses bone conduction headphones that rest on the blind person’s cheeks, giving him turn-by-turn directions on where to go and on the obstacles to avoid, each time a beacon’s signal is picked up by the smartphone.
At the same time, the headphones do not prevent wearers from hearing the sounds around them, allowing them to gather more information about the surrounding environment.
Although the tests have been very promising, as Kevin, one the first users said, there is still a long road ahead to Wayfindr being rolled out to the masses, and more testing needs to be done to ensure perfect coverage.
London’s underground is huge, and a very large number of beacons should be deployed. What’s more the whole system will need constant maintenance to make sure there are no blind spots. It is unlikely that will completely replace human intervention and assistance anytime soon.
Still, especially for young people, it could be a real improvement of their travel experience. According to RLSB, there are an estimated 7,000 blind and partially sighted children in the London region (of 25,000 overall in Britain), half of whom have difficulty using London’s transport network independently. This kind of technology could help them feel empowered and more confident about their capabilities.
To learn more about the service, check out the video below: