Beacons Put London One Step Closer to Setting Standard for Commuter Accessibility

Beacons Put London One Step Closer to Setting Standard for Commuter Accessibility

Google provides $1 million grant to fund Wayfindr, a program that assists visually impaired London Underground commuters through beacon technology

Macala Wright
  • 7 december 2015

Google’s charitable arm has donated $1 million to help spread blind navigation technology throughout cities worldwide. Starting in London, the Wayfindr program will develop an app that works with Bluetooth beacons to guide users through physical environments with audio cues but, more importantly, it’s developing the first open standard for such systems globally.

Wayfindr, a not-for-profit joint venture between ustwo and Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) will set the first standardized guidelines for using smartphones to guide vision impaired people in urban areas. The London Underground (LU) has commissioned full-scale trial of digital navigation system at Euston Tube station where blind and partially sighted people use the navigation system to help the navigate the train systems.

Commuter Accessibility

The trial guides participants that go through Euston Tube station will be given 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.

Commuter Accessibility

Google gave Wayfindr the grant 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. Google’s Managing Director in the UK, Eileen Naughton shared, “We’re extremely proud to support this project through, 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.”

Commuter Accessibility

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 vision impaired people. Having developed its expertise alongside LU, Wayfindr will begin trials in other urban settings, including retail environments and hospitals.

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.”

The Wayfindr Standard will launch in early 2016, setting the first guidelines for audio navigation for visually 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. The ultimate goal is to provide the impaired a reliable aid to independent travel so they can experience and navigate the world as anyone else world.


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