Smartphone app helps visually impaired navigate safely

Photo of a blind pedestrian navigating a curbA recent article in the Star Tribune described how smartphones and a variety of apps are liberating the blind and visually impaired, allowing them to do everything from making calls with voice commands to identifying currency.

Chen-Fu Liao, senior systems engineer at the U of M’s Minnesota Traffic Observatory and a researcher with the Roadway Safety Institute (RSI), is using a smartphone app to help visually impaired pedestrians with navigation.

The app provides blind or visually impaired pedestrians with geometric and signal timing information at intersections with stoplights—and allows them to request a crossing signal with a few taps on their phone. The app can also detect upcoming work zones on sidewalks and streets and provide alternate routing instructions.

Currently, Liao and his team are creating a “condition aware” infrastructure system that can be integrated with the smartphone app as part of an RSI project. They’re developing Bluetooth devices that can be installed anywhere to create a local map of the environment—which can then help visually impaired pedestrians navigate all types of surroundings, from traffic intersections to skyways to underground tunnels.

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Posted in Accessibility (for people with disabilities), Pedestrian, Safety, Technology, Transportation research, Urban transportation

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