Those with full eyesight take for granted how straightforward it feels to walk around an urban environment. Navigation becomes infinitely more complex when sight is no longer a reliable way of processing one’s surroundings. BlindMaps is a research-project around this question: how can the visually impaired be given the freedom of exploring and navigating in an unknown urban context.
BlindMaps will allow the visually impaired to navigate and explore new routes with ease. The user searches for a route using voice-input. Using touch-sensitive technology, the interface has a perforated Braille-like screen with pins that move and adapt to show how to navigate the route in real-time. BlindMaps avoids using voice guidance as this detracts from vital auditory clues in the environment. BlindMaps is planned as a crowd-sourced navigation-based service, which builds on top of map systems like OpenStreetMap and the onboard technology of smartphones. If the user encounters a problem, they can report it with a button and the route will adapt to a safer alternative for them and other users. Using the built-in sensors on the smartphone, the service intelligently rates the route based on how the user is navigating—sudden movements and changes in directions will rate as more difficult. The more people use a route, the more accurate the ecosystem becomes.
How did it all start?
The initial concept was made in 2012 at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design. The Fast Company wrote about it in February 2013 and many people have contacted us since then to say that they were interested in having Blind Maps for themselves or for their loved ones. In November 2013 we decided to continue with the project as part of the Creative-Region / Cross-Innovation EU program to further develop the concept in Linz, Berlin and Amsterdam.
We are currently doing user-research and prototype-testing sessions with blind people to further define the interface and interactions concept. In parallel we are looking into technology that would be needed to actually manufacture such a small interface. Projects such as HyperBraille, NIST tactile visual display, the Novel BrailleDis 9000 pin-matrix device and MIT’s inForm dynamic-shape-display are very promising as possible enablers for BlindMaps. Also as a next step we plan to research the software side of things with map-data and route-finding controlled by voice input. It is important to us to further develop this project in the context of open-data, open-hardware and open-design.
Our winning project Blind Maps by Markus Schmeiduch, Andrew Spitz and Ruben van der Vleuten provides an outstanding solution for blind people to navigate routes in real-time with the support of touch-sensitive technology. The interface has a perforated Braille-like screen with adaptable, moving pins, which are showing the user how to find his or her way through the dense network of streets so typical of current cities. The big potential of the project lies in the fact that it augments the everyday reality of visually impaired people, and thus creates access to technologies that were previously not available to this group. Blind Maps opens up and expands a formerly one-dimensional “blind space” to a crowd-sourced, navigation-based ecosystem enriched with useful information. On top of that, the exploration of this technology might add the tactile sense to augmented reality and thus enhance the experience and use of technical devices, which will possibly affect our future interaction habits on a more general level.
Markus Schmeiduch (AT) is an interaction designer and maker of digital products and services. He worked many years at the Vienna based agency Knallgrau before studying at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design. His focus is on people-centered design for mobility solutions at the intersection with emerging technologies. He co-founded and was the interface designer and product manager of Flying, an iPhone app for frequent flyers. Besides BlindMaps, he is working on Orbitalism, an experience design project around human space flight.
Andrew Spitz (FR) is an interaction designer, creative and sound designer. He is the founder of FROLIC, an interaction and experience design studio based in Amsterdam. Before starting FROLIC, he co-founded and was the creative director of Flying, an iPhone app for frequent flyers. His early days were spent as a sound designer and sound FX recordist/editor where he worked on feature films, commercials and documentaries. It was through sound that he discovered the world of interactivity where he started creating interactive installations and software.
Ruben van der Vleuten (NL) has been involved in a medical start-up called Urogyn. With a background in industrial design, he was responsible for all product design and product development. At the same time he led another life as an interaction designer, developing skills in electronics and programming and studying at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design. After four years with Urogyn he decided it was time to focus completely on his true passion and founded FROLIC, an interaction design studio based in Amsterdam focusing on user experience and tangible design.