A smart phone app designed to guide blind and partially sighted commuters around the London underground is currently undergoing a trial at Pimlico station.
The Wayfindr system, which came from the desire of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB’s) Youth Forum to navigate the tube independently, is being developed by global digital product studio ustwo.
Signals transmitted by Bluetooth beacons are picked up by a smartphone, and in conjunction with ustwo’s indoor positioning technology, the Wayfindr app is able to locate itself and give the user audible instructions.
The app is paired with commonly available ‘bone conduction’ earphones that do not prevent wearers from hearing the sounds around them.
Following an initial trial and discussions with London Underground, ustwo and London Underground’s Technology and Innovation team have partnered to jointly fund a month’s testing of the technology. 16 Bluetooth low energy beacons have been installed at Pimlico station and young vision impaired Londoners involved with the charity are now testing Wayfindr on the Underground.
Gareth Powell, London Underground Director of Strategy & Service Development, said: “We are delighted to be able to support this trial… 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.”
Wayfindr’s ambition is to standardise all audio signage across Transport for London, offering a seamless and simple way to navigate public transport. In its current form, the app talks the user through the station using directions triggered by the beacons – guiding them around the ticket hall, down escalators and stairs and safely onto the platform.
“I am so happy to see Wayfindr come to life.” Said Courtney Nugent, RLSB Youth forum member.
“When I tested the app at Pimlico last week for the first time it was awesome, it made me feel free.”
RLSB CEO Tom Pey, congratulated the blind young members of the youth forum who made this breakthrough a reality.
“You have demonstrated the creativity and tenacity to change the transport system of London; I believe there ought to be amazing opportunities for young people like you.”
Isabel Dedring, Deputy Mayor for Transport praised the trial and highlighted the importance of technology for future accessible travel.
“This is another great example of how London is leading the way in making public transport more accessible for everyone. These trials will hopefully prove that this sort of technology works in real life situations and will give people more freedom and confidence to travel around our capital.”
BBC Health Editor, Hugh Pym, attended the trial with members of RLSB’s Youth Forum. Read his full article on the BBC website.
Wayfindr was conceived by the forum as a practical solution to solve the challenges faced by vision impaired people wishing to travel independently on London’s transport, highlighted in their Youth Manifesto published in March last year. The manifesto covered transport, education and employment, and as the Wayfindr trial shows, the Youth Forum is continuing to work hard to make a positive impact on the lives of blind young people.