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Bluetooth beacons are helping the blind navigate London's Tube

Nick Summers, @nisummers
March 6, 2015
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London's Underground network can feel like a maze for even the most seasoned traveller, especially at rush hour when you're packed in with hordes of disgruntled commuters. The problem is only amplified for blind and partially sighted people, but a combination of Bluetooth beacons and smartphone app could make the experience less stressful. Wayfindr has been developed by Ustwo (yep, the folks behind the video game Monument Valley) and the Royal London Society for Blind People's (RLSB) Youth Forum to offer travellers audio-based directions and advice. A month-long trial at Pimlico station is now underway with 16 beacons tracking users' smartphones and activating descriptive notes. The information is basic, but could offer valuable guidance and, hopefully, confidence to blind and partially sighted people navigating the Underground independently.

Of course, on the Tube you need to stay alert, so the Wayfindr app is paired with bone conduction earphones that allow the wearer to listen to their surroundings simultaneously. It's a small trial for now, but Transport for London (TfL) says it could lead to further tests and shape how beacons are integrated into each station's physical architecture.

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