London Underground has started trials of a pioneering new technology which could significantly boost the Tube’s accessibility for Blind and partially sighted passengers.
The Wayfindr technology has been developed by the Royal London Society for Blind People’s (RLSB’s) youth forum and digital product studio ustwo and uses beacons to relay audio directions to an app on the passenger’s smartphone.
An initial test was carried out at Pimlico station earlier this year and a larger assessment us now underway at Euston station to assess whether the system can work reliably across the Tube network and to help “refine” its audio navigation standards.
Announcing the latest trial, Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: “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, added: “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.”
Wayfindr has received a $1m grant by google.org and plans to test its technology in a range of urban settings, including retail environments and hospitals.
CEO Umesh Panda commented: “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.”
Speaking earlier this year, Mohammed Mohsanali, chair of campaign group Transport for All, described beacon technology as “an exciting, promising innovation that could enable more visually impaired people to use the Tube independently.”
However with hundreds of staff posts being axed as part of the closure of ticket offices, he warned that “the majority of visually impaired transport users are not smartphone users, so beacon technology cannot replace audio announcements and trained, visible members of staff.”