Good Thinking

GPS-enabled app helps the blind take the bus

Main researcher Jordi Roig, using the OnTheBus app
Main researcher Jordi Roig, using the OnTheBus app
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Among other things, OnTheBus tells users how long they will have to wait for their chosen bus
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Among other things, OnTheBus tells users how long they will have to wait for their chosen bus
OnTheBus is an app designed to help blind people reach their destinations on city buses
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OnTheBus is an app designed to help blind people reach their destinations on city buses
Main researcher Jordi Roig, using the OnTheBus app
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Main researcher Jordi Roig, using the OnTheBus app

Like the rest of us, the blind can use speaking navigation apps to find their way around the city. A new Android application developed at Spain’s Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, however, is designed specifically to help blind people get to their destination by bus. Appropriately named OnTheBus, the app could also be used by the deaf, the cognitively-impaired, or anyone else.

The app features both visual and auditory cues, and starts by providing a choice of routes to the desired destination. After the user has chosen their preferred route, the system guides them from their present location to the closest appropriate bus stop. Once there, it lets them know how long they will have to wait before their bus arrives – presumably, once the time is at hand, they may still require some assistance in verifying that they're boarding the right bus.

After getting on the bus, the system will then inform them how many stops are left before theirs, and then alert them when it’s time to ring the bell. Upon getting off the vehicle, the app will resume giving directions, guiding the user to their final destination. When they enter that building, if they still need to find a room within it, they could perhaps switch over to an indoor navigation system for the blind, such as Navatar.

Among other things, OnTheBus tells users how long they will have to wait for their chosen bus
Among other things, OnTheBus tells users how long they will have to wait for their chosen bus

Along with the obvious GPS functionality, OnTheBus also utilizes the smartphone’s compass, accelerometer, and 3G or WiFi connectivity. Blind users can interact with it via voice recognition. It currently “speaks” Spanish, Catalan, English and Italian, and is presently limited to use in the cities of Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. Other languages are in the works, however, as are other cities – first up are Saragossa (in Spain), Valencia and Helsinki.

Down the road, the developers would like to see it be usable for other forms of public transit such as taxis, along with being able to guide users to the closest pharmacy or assistance center. They would also like to incorporate augmented reality technology, so that the user’s phone camera could be used to visually identify items such as stop signs or bus stops.

OnTheBus is available now, at Google Play. A demo of the app can be seen below.

Source: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

OnTheBus demonstration, normal and blind mode.

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