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Making mobility and accessibility easier through technology

Haptic Guidance proof of concept: Making journeys easier through new technology

Richard Steeples, Senior Product & Strategy Manager at O2 (The Lab), discusses our work with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and current co-innovation project with NTT Data UK and AEG designed to make mobility and accessibility easier through new technology.

As a specialist innovation division within O2, you may not have come across The Lab before. The Lab Team are at the forefront of innovation within O2, and are key in developing new approaches to product development. We have a wide remit focused on the business opportunities that new technologies can bring to O2, and provide thought leadership around a number of technologies.

A great example is the proof of concept project we are currently working on, designed to test whether haptic feedback technology can make indoor navigation easier for partially sighted or blind people. It’s a co-innovation project from O2 (The Lab), RNIB, NTT Data UK, and AEG.

Our starting point was a small handheld device called the Buru Navi, developed by NTT Labs in Japan, which looks a bit like a Wii Nunchuck. It houses vibrating weights that shift and point a user to a targeted location, making them feel as if their hand is being guided – a bit like the way a parent leads a child by the hand.

For the proof of concept, our remit was clear: Could we integrate this haptic feedback device with existing wifi or beacon technologies, to create a viable, useful product that would help a partially sighted or blind person to navigate their way around a large public space like The O2? We defined two tests to find out.

The first test: Indoor mobility

We conducted the first test at the O2 Blue Door Conference in London last year. Its aim was to establish how well the technology could assist someone with a visual impairment to navigate and move safely around an indoor space.

By installing a series of iBeacons we were able to map out precisely the mezzanine floor of our newly refurbished O2 Blueroom at The O2. This enabled the Buru Navi handheld device to pinpoint its location at all times and navigate its user around the space using haptic feedback in the form of vibrations and responses.

As a proof of concept this first test was a success, although it highlighted a need for greater location accuracy than the iBeacons were able to provide. Although easy to install and configure, they were accurate only to within one metre, not enough to avoid common obstacles such as pillars and beams.

The second test: Guidance to seat

Following the successful first trial, we were able to progress with the next, more ambitious phase of the proof of concept. This time we involved AEG, our partner at The O2, who were keen to see how technology might help improve the arena experience for visitors with mobility or accessibility needs.

Could we use the technology, for example, to guide people with accessible tickets from the front entrance all the way to their booked seats? Could the same technology enable them to access all of the other facilities such as restrooms, bar and food areas and merchandise stalls?

For this second test, we used Ultra Wide Band (UWB) technology for indoor navigation, in place of the iBeacon solution from the first test. When paired with NTT’s Buru Navi handheld device, the user’s location proved accurate to within just 20 cm.

“The Ultra Wide Band (UWB) technology gave us greater levels of indoor mapping accuracy to the iBeacons used in the first test, and we hope to run a trial with a live event or concert in the near future.”

Richard Steeples, Senior Product & Strategy Manager

What next?

The data collated from the second test is currently being analysed and interpreted, and so a widely-available, consumer solution is still some way off. But identifying the potential of technology is what proof of concepts like this one are all about, and what makes working at The Lab so rewarding.

The two tests proved that haptic feedback devices like NTT’s Buru Navi have an important role to play in supporting mobility and accessibility needs. Perhaps the technology can be made small enough to for inside a regular mobile phone? Or perhaps the same haptic feedback technology can be incorporated into other devices or wearables, thus making it truly handsfree. Whatever happens, we’ll keep you posted.

“RNIB, NTT Data and The Lab all worked closely and tirelessly over the last year to develop technology that would make live experiences more inclusive and accessible. I can’t wait to see how the trial results will shape the project going forward.”

Richard Steeples, Senior Product & Strategy Manager

 

Like to know more?

If you’d like to find out more about The Lab and the work that we do, you can watch this video.

Our partnership with RNIB began when we worked with them and software developer RealThing Entertainment to launch In Your Pocket, an intelligent mobile device specifically designed for people who are blind or partially sighted. You can find out more about it here.



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