A new smart phone app could spell the end to problems experienced by blind and partially sighted people navigating the London Underground and other transport networks.
The system uses small Bluetooth beacons to locate users and transmit audible directions through an earpiece, helping the passenger move independently throughout the network. The audible directions are provided via ‘bone conduction’ earphones, which allow passengers to hear sounds around them as well.
The groundbreaking scheme is currently being trialled by Transport for London at Pimlico station and if successful could be rolled out to the public on transport networks around the country.
It's the first time technology has been trialled to guide the sight impaired in underground areas or in areas of limited mobile phone reception, above ground systems use GPS signals but reception can still be an issue.
Tom Pey, chief executive of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB), told the BBC it was an ‘amazing, simple breakthrough’ that could transform job opportunities for the sight impaired.
The scheme is the result of a collaboration between members of the Youth Forum of the RLSB, who wanted to navigate the tube system independently, and digital products designer, ustwo, which devised a system.
London Underground technology and innovation team and ustwo have partnered to jointly fund the month’s testing of the technology. Young vision impaired Londoners involved with RLSB are now testing the Wayfindr app.
Mark Evers, London Underground director of customer strategy, said: 'We are delighted to be able to support this trial, which has developed directly from the desire of young visually impaired people to get around on their own.
'As well as testing an exciting new technology, the trial is giving us valuable information to help us understand and design for the future needs of our visually impaired customers.'
Umesh Pandya at ustwo said: 'We’re looking forward to working with TfL, as innovation partners, on several ongoing projects helping to define the future of digital travel-related experiences. Wayfindr came from Invent Time, an initiative at ustwo that gives us the opportunity to explore diverse areas including energy, wellbeing, mobility and education.
'Using our expertise in design and emerging technologies, we aim to partner with pioneering organisations such as the RLSB to create products that make a difference.'
London Underground provides a ‘turn-up-and-go’ assistance service so that people who want to be guided through stations do not need to book in advance.