A trial is underway at London's Pimlico Underground station to assist blind and partially sighted people to navigate independently, using Bluetooth beacons and a smartphone app.
The Wayfindr system has been developed by app studio ustwo, in response to the RLSB (Royal London Society for Blind People) Youth Forum's desire for blind and partially sighted people to be able to navigate London Underground (LU) without assistance.
The beacons transmit a signal that can be picked up by smartphones and mobile devices. Wayfindr uses these signals with ustwo's indoor positioning technology to locate itself and give audible directions to the user.
The app is paired with commonly available "bone conduction" earphones that do not prevent wearers from hearing the sounds around them.
After an initial trial ustwo and RLSB approached LU to see how the technology could work in the Tube's unique environment. Ustwo and LU's technology and innovation team have partnered to jointly fund a month's testing of the technology.
Sixteen Bluetooth low energy beacons have been installed at Pimlico station and young vision impaired Londoners involved with the charity are now testing Wayfindr on the Underground. Wayfindr's ambition is to standardise all audio signage across TfL (Transport for London), offering a seamless and simple way to navigate public transport.
In its current form, the app talks the user through the station using directions triggered by the Bluetooth beacons, guiding them around the ticket hall, down escalators and stairs and safely onto the platform.
Courtney Nugent, RLSB Youth Forum member, said: "I am so happy to see Wayfindr come to life. The journey from an idea that came up in a Youth Forum meeting 18 months ago, through our Youth Manifesto, to seeing a working trial on the Underground is fantastic.
"When I tested the app at Pimlico last week for the first time it was awesome, it made me feel free."
Isabel Dedring, deputy mayor for transport, said: "This is another great example of how London is leading the way in making public transport more accessible for everyone.
"These trials will hopefully prove that this sort of technology works in real life situations and will give people more freedom and confidence to travel around our capital."
It is hoped the trial will lead to the technology being adopted across the Tube system. Wayfindr is not a commercial product and the system has been designed to allow other developers to contribute to and improve the technology.