Indoor Navigation For The Visually Challenged: Life Made Easy

Technology has done much to improve the life of people with special needs. We have created battery operated chairs to aid in movement, watches coded in braille, touch free smart phones and even text to voice that can be used with just the movements of your eye. A lot of people owe being able to lead independent dignified lives to advent of modern innovations.

The one area that we have been sorely lacking in, however, is the mobility of people with visual impairments. Researchers have largely left this area untouched, choosing to rely on walking sticks and seeing-eye dogs that worked even 50 years ago. But these methods are far from being infallible, especially in confined spaces where there a lot more obstacles in the path. Indoor navigation system intends to change this.

What is Indoor Navigation System?
Indoor navigation system is the indoor equivalent of the Global Positioning System we currently use. While GPS can be used to map roads, streets and buildings, it is notorious for failing to outline any closed space. Indoor navigation seeks to overcome this fault by using a variety of technology like Radio wave Frequency, Bluetooth, Ultrasounds beacons etc. to chalk out the features of homes, offices, malls and buildings.

What is the market scenario?
The race to create the most efficient Indoor navigation software is fueling a number of companies and a lot of patents have been filed in order to safeguard technologies. Apple’s iBeacon’s uses Bluetooth signaling and crowd sourced data to effectively locate a person’s position. Launched in 2013, the app was tested out in San Francisco Airport where pre-installed beacons provided data to users’ phones in order to guide them through the airport. The data is transmitted via Bluetooth iPhones which is then conveyed to the user using Apple’s Voice over technology.

The beacons themselves were provided by indoor positioning company Indoo.rs which has made huge strides in developing positioning software for the visually impaired.

Not one to be left behind, Google too has developed technology that can rival Apple’s positioning systems. A controlled experiment conducted in a portion of Barcelona’s national art museum awed spectators when the software titled as Project Tango managed to completely map the location and send the data to users’ phones. Sensors and cameras chalked out the 3D spaces in the room while augmented reality helped contour features. Thus, the app didn’t stop at bare walls, users could even figure out when someone else was in front of them. When added to a speech software, we can easily understand how efficient it will be in helping visually impaired people navigate any confined area.

Other organizations like Broadcomm and Qualcomm have also dipped their hands in this market. Qualcomm’s Lumicast technology uses the speed and efficiency of LEDs to accurately transmit data and sketch out the coordinates of an interior space. Broadcomm, on the other hand, uses a variety of sensors to give pinpoint accuracy that can even determine what floor you are on.

Charting out an unfamiliar territory can be a hassle even for sighted people. We frequently get lost in malls, airports and hospitals. It must be even more nerve-wracking for people without such amenities. Thus, the need for indoor positioning is evident. It is a market with a huge demand and companies are quickly recognizing that. It will only be a matter of time till we get a plethora of software flooding the app stores and we will be spoiled for choice.

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