University

Mass. school to develop nav. app for visually impaired travelers

Posted on June 13, 2016

Joann Becker, whose experience inspired the proposal to build a micro-navigation app, navigates towards a bus stop. Photo: Perkins School for the Blind
Joann Becker, whose experience inspired the proposal to build a micro-navigation app, navigates towards a bus stop. Photo: Perkins School for the Blind

Perkins School for the Blind based in Watertown, Mass. has won a prestigious Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities grant with a proposal to create a micro-navigation solution for millions of commuters and travelers who are blind or have low vision. The $750,000 grant will fund the development of a mobile app to help travelers independently locate bus stops.

Perkins’ mobile app would pick up where many GPS systems leave off. Most commercially available GPS technology brings users no closer than 30 feet from their target. Perkins anticipates using crowdsourcing to provide detailed navigation clues to bring users to within four to five feet — the standard length of a white cane — of their precise destination.

Bill Oates, VP, Perkins Solutions, the accessibility services, products, and training division of Perkins School for the Blind, learned about the very real problem from a colleague who is blind and commutes by bus. “She told us that her GPS says ‘You’ve arrived,’ but leaves her 10 yards away from the bus stop,” said Oates. “That bus may just pass her by.”  



The aim will be to solve that navigation problem and help people with impaired vision travel more independently, not just locally but anywhere in the world.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 285 million people around the world have some degree of vision loss.


“The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities set out to accelerate the use of technology to create meaningful change in the lives of the one billion people in the world with a disability, " said Brigitte Gosselink, Head of the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities. "We’re eager to watch as today’s winners, selected from over 1,000 submissions from around the world, build new solutions that will transform lives and make the world more accessible for all.”

“This grant will allow us to address a technology gap that keeps many people who are blind from getting to work, exploring their surroundings and contributing to their communities,” said Dave Power, president/CEO of Perkins School for the Blind. 


 

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