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 Google.org 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.
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.
Mayor of London, Boris Johnson MP said: `We're always striving to find new and innovative ways to help give more people the confidence to travel on our transport network. The Wayfindr project is a great example of our wider work to improve accessibility in London, which includes hundreds of millions of pounds invested into step-free stations and new trains designed to be accessible to all. I look forward to the results of this hugely exciting trial, which is making use of the latest smartphone technology to help vision impaired people get around our city more easily.'
David Waboso, LU's Capital Programmes Director, said: `We've been supporting Wayfindr from its infancy, and are delighted to see it taking off. Our trial at Euston is really putting the system through its paces, to see whether it can fulfil its promise at one of London's busiest Tube stations. Ultimately this innovative project is about giving our vision-impaired customers the flexibility to travel with the same independence and spontaneity as everyone else. We're excited to see what this technology can do to make London an even more open and accessible city.'
Umesh Pandya, CEO of Wayfindr - previously Associate User Experience Director at ustwo, said: `Wayfindr evolved from a collaboration with RLSB's Youth Forum investigating whether they could use their smartphones to navigate the London Underground as part of ustwo's Invent Time (their social good R+D programme). Through our open and inclusive design approach, the Wayfindr standard has the potential to change the lives of vision impaired people across the globe.'
Dr Tom Pey, Chief Executive of RLSB and Chair of Wayfindr, said: `Smartphones have revolutionised the lives of blind people, giving us a level of independence that 20 years ago we couldn't have imagined. What makes Wayfindr so strong is the focus on smartphones, meaning blind people don't have to spend hundreds of pounds on different gadgets - they have everything they need in their pockets. I am excited for our young people to be at the forefront of making London the most accessible city in the world, through the Wayfindr Standard.'
Ashar Smith of the RLSB Youth Forum, said: `It's fantastic to see concepts developed by the Youth Forum materialise into something useful that will change the way vision impaired people participate in society on a global scale. Wayfindr will allow us to travel independently, which will facilitate accessibility to jobs, reduce the risks of isolation, and allow us to enjoy the city that we live in. Only an innovative organisation like RLSB would encourage such a wide reaching project to be user led, allowing the project to be streamlined for those who will benefit from it most.'
Google's Managing Director in the UK Eileen Naughton comments: `We're extremely proud to support this project through Google.org, and to see multiple UK partners working together to improve access for visually impaired people. Moving freely is something that many of us take for granted and the hope here is that we can support mobility and movement through innovations in technology, and ultimately to support visually impaired people to live more independent lives.'