Indoor mapping to increase mobility for blind users

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Monday, 19 November 2012 12:11pm

Increasing the independence of people who are blind or vision impaired could be possible through indoor mapping technology, according to experts who attended last week's Indoor Positioning and Indoor Navigation (IPIN) conference. Held at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the conference brought together electronics, surveying and informatics experts to discuss the potential of indoor mapping, including how it could enhance the independence and mobility of people who are blind or vision impaired.

Thomas Gallagher, a researcher at UNSW, told the Sydney Morning Herald that indoor mapping technologies could further increase the independence of blind and vision impaired users, similar to how global positioning system (GPS) technology helps people navigate outdoor spaces.

“GPS has already completely revolutionised their lives because it's giving them a lot more independence and they're a lot more confident moving around by themselves in the city […] Of course if you can bring these guiding technologies indoors it's a really good application."

While GPS uses satellite information to map the outdoors, indoor mapping uses WiFi to collect data that enables a receiver, such as a smartphone, to locate where a person is.

Speaking at the IPIN conference, software engineer and head of Google's indoor mapping Waleed Kadous said the technology is on the brink of being commercially adopted. Earlier this year, Google introduced indoor maps as an addition to the popular Google Maps app for Android phones. Google's indoor maps display floor plans and use voice-guided walking directions to help users find their way around indoor environments.  So far, airports, museums, train stations and Ikea stores in the USA have adopted the technology and made their floor plans available to Google maps users.

While the Google Maps feature is not yet available in Australia, kiosk company Abuzz allows users to find their way inside shopping and commercial centres through kiosks that use indoor mapping technology. Its Wayfinder smartphone app guides users through participating venues such as shopping centres or conference facilities.

UNSW researchers are working on a project which makes use of indoor mapping technology specifically for the benefit of those who are blind and vision impaired through a user interface which supports Braille. It is scheduled to be trialled late this year or early next year.

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