Indoor Navigation for the Visually Impaired

Silvia Pichler, 

Navigating our ways through public buildings is oftentimes a real struggle, even with signage and static maps provided. We all probably have been lost inside shopping malls, hospitals, airports or other big and crowded buildings before. If it’s already hard on normally sighted people, then how can we expect visually impaired people to manage?


According to the World Health Organization, 253 million people worldwide are visually impaired. They are 3 times more likely to be hit by motorcycles, 2 times more likely to have a fall while walking and 3 times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders.


Devising new ways to improve the quality of and security in their everyday lives is therefore vital. Ensuring that each and every person can lead a comfortable life, especially when some of us are unable to move independently and securely is critical.

Assisted Wayfinding for the Blind

As such, indoor navigation systems for the visually handicapped have become increasingly necessary in the current life setting.


Even normally sighted people find it a daunting task to find their way around in vast buildings such as hospitals, cruise ships, IKEA stores etc. That should give everyone an idea of how difficult it  must be for blind people.

indoor navigation for the visually impaired tactile paving

White stick and tactile paving help blind people walk around safely, but cannot provide help with directions


Using a combination of iBeacons, smartphone sensors and algorithms, real-time indoor navigation is made available via mobile app.


By simply incorporating an audio guide, a visually impaired person will be able to fully determine their location inside the building and successfully navigate to their desired Point of Interest on their own.


The visually impaired technology enhances an individual’s:

  • Spatial awareness
  • Self-supporting navigation to POIs
  • Time management
  • Confidence and comfort


The mechanism has proven very effective in aiding the visually impaired moving around with increased awareness, e.g. at San Francisco Airport or for our project with MD Support.


How it works

Similar to a D-cell battery size, small iBeacons are strategically installed on the walls inside a building. Together with the technology, they help users locate themselves on the map in the mobile app.


If you are at a conference hotel, for instance, the system will help you recognize and find specific conference rooms, amenities such as restrooms and vending machines, ATM machines and the reception desk among other areas of interests.


Clicking on the Search tab displays the keypad as well as the Dictate button just like it happens in any given app. This allows you to dictate or type your search term, for instance, “Gent’s restroom”.


Your mobile device will then give you verbal instructions, directing you to your desired destination. As you approach your destination, the phone will release a gradually descending sound as well as vibrations, indicating the correct direction and remaining distance.


The audio guide will also give detailed location information about POIs in the close vicinity of the user as they move around, e.g. “Waste bin at 9 o’clock, 25 feet”.


Simple things like these, we usually see in passing and don’t give too much thought. However, for a blind person bins are really hard to find and they actively have to ask others for help, which is inconvenient. After all, nobody likes to carry around their waste longer than necessary or constantly depend on help from others for something that should actually be simple and readily accessible for everyone. therefore helps blind people perceive their surroundings almost just like a normally sighted person would, which boosts their comfort, confidence and takes some of the stress away.


Real-Life Project: The LowViz Guide App

Navigating through unknown environments hassle-freely, especially as a blind person, seemed like a miracle in the past to many. While sighted individuals could at least still check their surroundings, recall familiar features and read signs to orient themselves, visually impaired people have found the whole experience rather confusing and stressful.


After realizing the agony the blind and those with low-vision are going through, especially during meetings and seminars, Dan Roberts, who doubles as the founder and president of MD (Macular Degeneration) Support embarked on a research to unveil a lasting solution to the nagging indoor navigation issue.


It occurred to him that the indoor navigation solution was already in use and had been mounted in strategic areas, including train stations around Europe. Roberts created a mobile app, using Visually Impaired Navigation solution.

LowViz guide app    LowViz-Guide-Screenshot new

Screenshots of the LowViz Guide App


His main concern was getting the green light to install these systems in special areas that seemed too tricky for people with cognitive or visual impairments. His efforts bore fruits as it led to the development of the LowViz Guide app.  


The app is designed to be used for conferences and similar events and can be used in various buildings. The app is a real asset to each event and has since helped many blind visitors navigate around securely.


In a nutshell

Any traveller with visual impairment fully understands the challenges and the amount of time it can take to grasp the outline of a huge hotel building or other vast indoor venues. The fact that the blind can now navigate freely inside buildings using the solution is a great achievement for the community and has the potential to make hundreds of millions of lives easier every day.


You would like to improve visually impaired navigation inside your building?


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