Smart Takes

The app that helps the visually impaired navigate indoors

Posting in Technology

Where GPS fails, perhaps ultra wide band transmissions can succeed.

Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) and Fujitsu have teamed up to develop a real-time positioning system to help the visually impaired move around indoors.

As GPS cannot currently be used to gather and transmit positional data indoors, the collaborative effort between the two teams used a smartphone and ultra wide band (UWB) transmission technology instead.

'Base stations' are installed in different areas indoors. Using nanosecond-long pulses of UWB, a smartphone communicates with each station, calculating the phone -- and therefore person's -- distance from each base. Accurate to within roughly 30cm, or one foot, the positioning data is then transmitted via Bluetooth to a smartphone app.

Once the app receives this data, the position is displayed on a map, as well as offering audio prompts describing the current location, distance and direction to whatever target point the user chooses. As the user moves, the map and instructions update automatically.

The entire system is controlled by a personal computer, which calculates and gives the positioning data based on the multiple sensor results.

This system could be applied to places that are unfamiliar, if a smartphone has the app installed and the location is equipped with the base stations this technology requires. However, it may not simply be limited to those who are visually impaired -- such navigation software could also have a place in warehouses or manufacturing, and may help workers to find certain objects, or where to go next.

NICT and Fujitsu plan to further advance the technology by applying it to an area that is often risky -- roads. The teams are currently building a system with additional sensors for this purpose, so that obstacles can be detected when attempting to cross.

The system will be demonstrated at Wireless Technology Park 2012, held July 5-6 at Pacifico Yokohama.

For more information, view the video below:

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure