Wayfindr smartphone app for the blind

Another example from the 2016 Interaction awards. This shows design research in action including the use of empathy tools.

Project Description

Wayfindr is the first open standard for audio-based navigation

There are an estimated 285 million vision impaired people worldwide. Sadly, the consequences of sight loss are often poverty, isolation and depression. Of the estimated two million people living with sight loss in the UK, almost half say they would like to leave their home more often.

Overcoming these challenges starts with enabling independent travel, which catalyses both individual and societal change.

The ‘what if’ moment

What if vision impaired people were empowered to navigate independently using the smart phone they already have in their pocket? This was the challenge posed by Royal London Society for Blind People’s (RLSB) Youth Forum to ustwo in 2014.

With limited or no vision, navigating an unfamiliar environment means you are wholly reliant on auditory cues or a sighted guide for directions. Emerging technologies such as smartphones and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Beacons point to a future of independent navigation for blind people. There is a pressing need to develop a consistent standard to be implemented across wayfinding systems. This will open up a world where vision impaired people are no longer held back by their sight loss.

Built into the Wayfindr standard is a determination to create social, economic and personal value for users. During our trials we have seen an increase in the confidence of our participants. Every time a vision impaired person independently reaches their desired destination using Wayfindr it changes their perceptions of their own abilities. We believe that as the adoption of the Wayfindr standard increases, this impact will propagate across the globe.

How we got there

In March 2014 we secured a trial at Pimlico station in partnership with Transport for London (TfL). We installed Bluetooth LE Beacons across the station, and developed a basic prototype app which guided you around the station. At this point we were intending to build an app called ‘Wayfindr’ but we soon realised this was not the way to achieve our impact. We are now setting the standard for audio based wayfinding, ensuring that wherever blind and partially sighted people go, and whatever app they use, they have a consistent and reliable experience.

Wayfindr is now set up as a joint venture between ustwo and RLSB, and has recently received $1m of funding through Google.org as part of their Global Impact Challenge: Disabilities. In December 2015 we trialled the Wayfindr standard at London Euston in partnership with TfL. In this trial users could select from over 80 routes in the station, from exit to platform, between platforms etc.

The first version of the Wayfindr standard is due in Spring 2016. It will enable built environment owners, digital navigation services, and other stakeholders to adopt the standard and ensure their products and services are accessible to vision impaired people.

For more info visit wayfindr.net

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