Lighting the Beacon: Opening the Door to Accessible Navigation

By Glyn Thompson and Carl Hodson | 12 February 2019

#TechTuesdays is a new weekly blog and vlog from SCOVI. This week seescape's Carl Hodson and Sense of Direction Enterprises' Glyn Thompson write about the installation of indoor navigation systems and how they can revolutionise how people with vision impairments can navigate independently.

It’s a lovely day, so you decide to head out into town for some fresh air and a chance to get some shopping. Perhaps you use a smartphone or a portable device to help navigate the local streets, taking in information about what is around you on the way. You arrive at the shopping centre, go through the automatic doors and all the information you had been receiving about the streets and adjoining roads stops.

Nothing to tell you that you have entered on the ground floor and are currently looking down a row of shops lining both sides of the corridor, with an escalator in the centre after approximately 50 metres.

No option to hear information about which shops are on each side, and roughly how far along the corridor they are; or that there is also a QR code on the right of every door entry that you could scan using your smartphone to hear information about which shop it is, and some basic layout information about the shop on entry.

The Beacon Positioning Systems that we install provide this kind of information. Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons are placed at uniform points inside a building, and, as you approach the beacon, it will declare to the BlindSquare app which beacon it is. When you are within a set distance of the beacon, BlindSquare will reference the compass on your smart device to determine direction of travel and play a message for that direction.

As you slowly turn around, the direction of travel will change, and the messages will update to tell you what you are facing in each direction. An optional second tier of information can be added in places such as long corridors with multiple doors. The first-tier message could tell you that there are 5 doors on the right wall, and 5 on the left wall. The second-tier message, which is optional and accessed by shaking your phone vertically, could provide information about the use of each door.

The system also allows us to use a Customised Location Service to give you more information about the areas immediately surrounding a building. If you use BlindSquare you can add your own “points of interest”, such as bus stops, post boxes, benches, outdoor features or anything else that is relevant to you, and BlindSquare will notify you when you are close to them. However, these points of interest are unique to you and would not notify other people. The Customised Location Service allows us to program universal points of interest that all users can access, for the benefit of safe navigation around an area for everyone.

The full version of BlindSquare will work seamlessly from outdoors to an indoor environment with a Beacon Positioning System, such as at the wonderful seescape offices in Kirkcaldy. If you do not have the full version then you can download a free version of the app called BlindSquare Event. The free version will also have an additional 2 kilometres radius from seescape to try out the full features of BlindSquare if it is not something you have used before. Both apps are currently only available for iPhone from the Apple Store.

Our aim is to install the system in as many locations as possible across Scotland for the benefit of people with sight loss, and as a social enterprise our profit will benefit people with sight loss in Scotland too. If you would like to know more then please get in touch, and if you have any suggestions for where you would like the system to go then please let us know!

Find out more about Sense of Direction at https://senseofdirection.org.uk

Find out more about seescape at https://www.seescape.org.uk/


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