Bluetooth Aiding Accessibility

We recently came across RightHear, an app that assists people with orientation difficulties or vision impairments. It provides navigation information in indoor and outdoor settings.

The app acts as a virtual directory for users, directing them through locations with audio cues (such as ‘reception is 20 feet ahead to the left’ or ‘exit is 50 feet ahead’). Users can point their phone in a specific direction to learn what’s in front of them.

For companies, the app improves accessibility compliance, aids corporate responsibility and improves a brand’s narrative regarding inclusion. It works using Bluetooth beacons that are picked up by the app. The app creates auditory descriptions and notifications. There’s also a dashboard for companies/admin to control and track the solution.

View Bluetooth Beacons

Using Beacons on Buses

Some of the first uses of beacons was on buses. For example, in 2015 in London, 500 buses sent targeted in-app messages to passengers. It didn’t work, Proxama ceased to be in business and thankfully the use of beacons for spamming went away. Today, the use of beacons has matured as has their use on buses.

There’s a useful presentation by Texas A&M Transportation Institute and Houston METRO on Bus Stop Beacons: Transit Wayfinding for People with Visual Impairments (pdf). They classify accessibility challenges as locating stops, knowing which routes serve stops, obtaining real-time information and boarding the vehicle. They conclude that multiple location sources, using Bluetooth with GPS, work better than a single source alone. Also, sound shouldn’t be the only way riders receive information from an app because noisy environments make listening difficult. Vibrations can be used to provide additional notifications.

There are insights from Connecthings/CTS in Strasbourg on helping the blind catch the right bus. There’s also guidance in In–Vehicle Positioning for Public Transit Using BLE Beacons that shows locating a passenger to at least 1 meter across the length of the bus vehicle is possible using Bluetooth beacons. This can be used to assess crowding.

The current state of the art is using beacons with ticketless payment and automatic boarding and un-boarding detection. The pioneer in this area is one of our consultancy clients, UrbanThings, who has an article on Increase ridership through mobile ticketing and case studies.

Another one of our customers, Lothian buses, uses beacons to aid accessibility:

Next Stop Announcements: when on a bus, the customer can select which bus route they are on and the app will announce the name of the next stop as the bus approaches (with buses fitted with Bluetooth beacons, the customer doesn’t even need to select which bus route they are on – the app knows automatically)

Read about Beacons in Transportation

Using Bluetooth RSSI for Visually Impaired Navigation

There’s new research from the University of Bristol on Outdoor Localization Using BLE RSSI and Accessible Pedestrian Signals for the Visually Impaired at Intersections.

The idea is to use Bluetooth received signal strength (RSSI) to enable the blind and visually impaired (BVI) to safely to cross intersections on foot. Audible systems already exist but users find them confusing when crossing complex road intersections. The researchers developed a system called CAS (Crossing Assistance System) that provides pedestrian positioning.

The system uses k-nearest neighbors (kNN) method Support Vector Machine (SVM) with various RSSI features for classification, including a moving average filter, that was able to localise people with 97.7% accuracy.

A Beacon-Based Mobility Aid for People with Dementia

James Bayliss, a final year industrial design student at Loughborough University, has designed a smart mobility aid that uses beacons. It’s allows people with dementia to live safely in their own home for longer.

The system, called ‘AIDE’, comprises of a walking stick that works with Bluetooth beacons situated around the home.

It tracks the person’s movement and uses machine learning software to detect behaviours and actions that are out of the ordinary. The system also provides reminders to the person to help re-orient them if they have a confused episode.

Beacons Aid Accessibility in Toronto

Mohari Hospitality and SH Hotels & Resorts have just opened the re-designed 1 Hotel Toronto as part of downtown Toronto’s urban regeneration.

1 Hotel Toronto

Beacons have been placed in the communal indoor and outdoor spaces as part of CNIB’s Accessible Neighbourhoods Project. The project improves access to city areas by making them more accessible.

Improving accessibility in Toronto

The BlindSquare Beacon Positioning System (BPS) broadcasts a unique ID that’s received by smartphones. The ID is used to look up the information linked to the beacon that’s presented to the user.

BPS App

There’s more detailed information on the BPS in the user guide.

The Future of Theatre Using iBeacons

Theatre and performing arts are currently going through a crisis as theatres remain closed but are still experiencing ongoing costs with no income. Performers are juggling new jobs to make ends meet. In the UK alone there’s a projected £74bn drop in revenue for the creative industries and the loss of 400,000 jobs. There’s a growing realisation that the Covid pandemic is going to be with us for a long time. Even when there’s a vaccine, it will take a long time to manufacture, only provide for gradual vaccination and probably require seasonal re-vaccination much like flu.

With this in mind, once theatres are allowed to re-open, they will have to adapt to the new normal. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s pilot performances are leading the way with improvements in hygiene, social distancing, temperature testing, mandatory face masks and special anti-viral sprays.

The Grand Theatre in Blackpool has a new article on the Future of Theatre In A Digital World. It describes new innovations that will improve the customer journey as well as provide for more automated contact-less engagement required for coping with the Covid crisis.

The aim is to integrate all systems to improve the customer experience, raise more online reviews and gain customer feedback. This starts with smart booking of theatre tickets through smartphones, watches and home speakers. Tickets reside on your smartphone with associated useful information such as casting biographies, announcements, behind the scenes photos/videos, reviews, cast introductions, offers and vouchers. This will allow for faster returns and seating updates. eVouchers allow contactless use of entry gates, concession areas, car parking passes, public transport tickets and pre-paid taxis.

iBeacon Theatre Bar Congestion
Theatre bar congestion

Bluetooth iBeacons allow for location based:

  • Checking in
  • Provision of information such as waiting times, best bars to head for and where to go for personal or accessibility assistance
  • Offering of vouchers based on previous spending habits
  • Messaging to advise turning down phone when seated, that might even be done automatically
  • When seated, promoting of upcoming productions with one click booking

Some of these things are starting to happen at theatres like the UK’s Blackpool Grand. The contact-less aspects are likely to be accelerated due to the Covid crisis.

BlindSquare and Beacons

BlindSquare is a popular accessible GPS application developed for the blind and visually impaired. It describes the environment, announces points of interest and street intersections. BlindSquare also works with iBeacons.

An example of use of BlindSquare with beacons is Melbourne Zoo that allows people with visual impairments to get to parts of the zoo that are out of bounds to guide dogs.