New service helps visually impaired people to navigate indoor spaces

Breakthrough innovation specialist Cambridge Consultants has partnered with Waymap to create a unique smartphone service that helps visually impaired people to navigate through complex indoor spaces, such as public transport hubs.

visually impaired person with cane walking through a busy transport hub; technology map superimposed

The service provides audio instructions to help the user to reach their destination with accuracy to within a single footstep. Crucially, there is no dependency on unreliable GPS signals or requirement to install specialist navigation equipment. The ultimate mission is to provide independence, confidence and freedom of travel to millions of blind and visually impaired people.

One of the greatest sources of exclusion for blind and visually impaired people is the restricted social engagement that comes from limited travel. The key barrier to overcome is the fear of not being able to complete their journey or suddenly being dependent upon strangers for assistance. Many visually impaired people simply do not go out alone or limit themselves to a handful of routes that they know well. Cambridge Consultants and Waymap have developed a navigation tool that these users can rely on.

The core service consists of audio instructions from a smartphone. Dynamic routing gives the user the most up to date and relevant paths according to their needs. At the heart of the service is an advanced algorithm that locates people accurately without the need for specialist equipment or local infrastructure, such as Bluetooth beacons.

To speed up time to market, Cambridge Consultants licensed Trace, its indoor location IP, to Waymap, and worked in partnership to enhance and extend it for use on smartphones. Trace is a breakthrough in indoor location tracking using the tiny, low-cost inertial sensors found in smartphones, coupled with ingenious data fusion algorithms. Crucially, Trace is not reliant on external references or GPS. Cambridge Consultants developed bespoke algorithms that harness its deep understanding of inertial sensors and the mechanics of human motion, gained from extensive work in fitness technology development. The system aims to locate the user to within half a meter - a single step – a new and necessary level of accuracy needed in order to deliver reliable audio navigation.

Transport networks and venues seeking to activate the Waymap service first sign up as a provider. The Waymap team then creates a detailed map of the venue, rich in features that are important to those with impaired vision. Users then download the maps as they need them, while the venue is provided with a digital platform to integrate live services, manage their facilities and deliver emergency support. Waymap is in the process of enhancing, testing and trialing the system in real-world scenarios with partners in the UK and USA, and is seeking to sign up additional providers for public launch in 2020.

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