VisionBridge celebrates assistive technology innovation on our 8th anniversary and shines a light on the awesome global potential offered by Waymap’s digital wayfinding solution.
As we begin VisionBridge’s 8th year of advocating for eye research and championing assistive technology innovation, we applaud the ongoing tech evolution and revolution in maximising accessibility and inclusivity for vi/blind communities in built environments.
During the constant battle to prevent, treat and cure eye diseases and systemic diseases that can impact on sight, it is vital that the critical role that assistive technology (AT) can play in rehabilitating patients experiencing sight loss is constantly acknowledged and applauded.
To put this into context, I lost my sight in 2010, so I acquired a personal as well as a professional interest in AT. I had struggled for some years with diminishing sight to read emails, recognise faces, navigate indoors or outdoors in glare or low light and generally manage the tasks in daily living that we all take for granted.
It never occurred to me that AT could come to the rescue in so many ways and it took me some time to discover that alongside our world class army of basic discovery scientists, there is an equally impressive cohort of technology developers in universities and the private sector who are working tirelessly to rehabilitate patients using AT.
Against this backdrop, I launched VisionBridge, an independent social enterprise designed to advocate for eye research, promote eye health and champion AT innovation. We have no commercial interest in AT but we do have a mission to widen access to appropriate technologies for vi communities worldwide. We applaud the emerging software and hardware technologies which are More task oriented, disease specific, simpler to use, lighter, smaller, more accurate and flexible and indeed feature AI, AR and VR, more sensitive sensors and longer battery life and are more sensibly priced.
Personally speaking, AT continues to help me work, communicate and retain a measurable degree of mobility and independence. I am amazed by the ability of innovative hardware and software to evolve and make life just that little bit easier, whether it is integrated in a computer, Ipad, Iphone or indeed features in Smart portables or wearables.
However, AT is certainly not a panacea for sight loss. It does not pretend to prevent, treat or even cure my blinding disease. However, I strongly believe that it should be considered as a useful friend. one such example is digital wayfinding technology which I believe will soon revolutionise the degree of accessibility and inclusivity in built environments for visually impaired users and indeed eventually those with dementia, learning disabilities and neuro-diversity. I want to remain as mobile, independent, safe and informed as possible as I move around. This outcome can only be achieved if the wayfinding solution I am using is highly accurate, reliable, hands-free and does not rely on connectivity or infrastructure viability inside a building. I believe I have found the answer in “Waymap” that simply requires a scanned internal digitised map of a building to be uploaded, featuring so called “points of interest” that need to be updated. This compares to other wayfinding solutions that require for example constant gps/mobile/wifi connectivity, tags, beacons, vibrating wristbands, Smart cane integration with Smart crystals, Smart and tactile paving, sensors or phone camera usage to effectively support the user.
Digital wayfinding solutions offer the intriguing proposition of also supporting sighted users as they navigate around the built environment, who may be experiencing a degree of dementia, learning disability or neuro-diversity or who may be simply disorientated and confused by the myriad range of existing wayfinding prompts including signage, maps, lighting, colours, textures, layout and acoustics. In this context, access consultants, regulators, designers and developers and venue owners and operators need to be sensitive to the additional needs of their visitors, customers, employees and others and embrace this emerging potential of digital wayfinding applications and not just rely on the traditional audible alerts, wheelchair ramps and luminous lines on the floor that have hitherto “ticked the accessibility box”. For digital wayfinding to fully maximise accessibility and inclusivity for vi communities, it needs to be universally adopted and continually updated so as to offer a seamless and trouble-free experience for all users.
Waymap’s location technology is powered by an advanced AI-based algorithm (Trace) that runs on the smartphone to deliver visual or audibly described real-time location and heading. This is combined with accurate digital maps, which are loaded into the app to automate the delivery of audio navigation instructions, point of interest information, and to support dynamic re-routing. Their approach scales without difficulty and is particularly resilient to poor maintenance, cold winters, device failure, vandalism, spoofing or cyber-attack to the infrastructure.
A user requires only one free Waymap App for all environments supported by Waymap, everywhere around the world. The map data and live feeds are connected to Waymap’s distributed and secure service platform that delivers the relevant information as the user needs it. As new features and improvements become available, all users can receive them through an upgrade in their Appstore. All changes to individual maps or data feeds are automatically and seamlessly pushed out to the users that need it. This service is delivered without physical infrastructure, enabling superior accuracy, scalability, and reliability, as well as offering far lower maintenance costs than other technologies.
Waymap’s technology is inherently a fusion technology. At its core, the location algorithm needs nothing but the sensors on the smartphone (gyroscope, accelerometer, barometer, and magnetometer) and an accurate map, but they also incorporate any other sources of location that are available in the environment. In this case, UWB beacons would be a complementary technology to their location algorithm, and they have worked with beacon technologies before.)
Looking over the AT horizon, there is no doubt that progress will continue to be made in areas such as vision enhancement, reading support, obstacle avoidance, scene description and object recognition, but I believe it is in the world of navigation and orientation technology where the fundamental step-change in the quality of life for visually impaired communities will occur. The ability of users to ultimately travel safely and confidently will inestimably enhance their employment and educational opportunities, connectivity with community, mental health and emotional well-being, let alone m