Security and Safety

Digital technology helps vision impaired navigate London subway

Posted on December 8, 2015

Photo: Transport for London/©Sophie Mutevelian
Photo: Transport for London/©Sophie Mutevelian

Blind and partially sighted people are trialling the Wayfindr digital navigation system at a major London Underground (LU) station for the first time.

Wayfindr — pioneered by the Royal London Society for Blind People's (RLSB's) youth forum and digital product studio, ustwo — 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 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.

Photo: Transport for London/©Sophie Mutevelian
Photo: Transport for London/©Sophie Mutevelian
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.

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