Technology unlocks cities for visually impaired

A prototype headset on a route fitted with transmitters has helped visually impaired people travel independently from their home in Reading to London Paddington.

The successful trial came after Guide Dogs and Microsoft joined forces to see if they could come up with a way to help visually impaired people use public transport more easily.

They were joined by the Future Cities Catapult – one of a series of technology and innovation centres funded by Innovate UK – and a number of other businesses and researchers including Nokia Lumia, Aftershokz, Arup, Mubaloo, Olsawang, the University of Nottingham and the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London.

The project, Cities Unlocked, developed technology that improves a visually impaired person’s experience of the urban environment by using ‘3D soundscapes’ to increase confidence and well-being.

Beacons transmit information to headset

Beacons along the route transmit data to a headset and GPS pinpoints the user’s location. A series of pips changes pattern and frequency to help the user adjust direction. Beacons also provide a commentary about nearby landmarks or places of interest.

Jenny Cook, head of strategy and research, Guide Dogs, said:

'By working with people who are living with sight loss and developing a deep understanding of the challenges they face, we’ve shown that the right technology can empower people.'

Cities Unlocked technology could have wider uses

The technology could have wider uses, and the Future Cities Catapult is working with several public and private organisations to roll out larger networks of beacons that could provide information to everyone.

Claire Mookerjee, project lead urbanism at Future Cities Catapult, said:

'We all find navigation challenging. For tourists, delivery drivers or any other visitor, this research is very relevant – there could be any number of products and services here that can help people and have commercial value.'

The Catapults are a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in seven specific areas and drive future economic growth.

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