Technology has come a long way in improving many aspects of our day-to-day lives. But we’ve become so used to being surrounded by sensors, screens and other devices that in many cases, we take them all for granted. That’s why regular passengers on the London Underground may not have noticed a special series of Bluetooth beacons placed along specific paths of select Tube stations.
These beacons are being used to test a new system that would help visually impaired passengers gain more independence when using the Underground. From the BBC:
Members of the Youth Forum of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) said they wanted to navigate the tube system independently.
Currently most have to rely on friends to help them get used to familiar routes or phone ahead to request assistance from London Underground staff. Many do not feel confident about using the whole network.
The beacon system was created with the help of a digital design group called ustwo. The beacons use Bluetooth to send audible signals to smartphones and other mobile devices. Passengers who have their devices set to pick up those signals will hear specific directions that guide them throughout Tube stations, allowing them to reach their destinations without the aid of another person.
Similar services have already been in place above ground but they usually rely on GPS and they’re difficult to use underground due to poor reception. Bluetooth beacons don’t carry those kinds of restrictions and they can be deployed in very specific locations to provide more accurate details to travelers.
As a visually impaired person myself, I’ve experienced plenty of my own challenges using public transportation. Seeing programs like this gives me hope that new technologies will be implemented in clever ways to truly help people with visual or mobility impairments gain a greater sense of independence.