Ngee Ann Polytechnic students design navigation app for visually impaired

Ngee Ann Polytechnic students design navigation app for visually impaired

Date
Thursday, 03 January 2013

Media Type
TODAY (Online)

SINGAPORE - To help visually impaired persons walk around on their own in unfamiliar surrondings, three Ngee Ann Polytechnic's (NP) students have developed a smartphone application which provides step-by-step directions to help users to, among other things, navigate stairs, avoid obstacles and locate amenities such as toilets. 

The app uses a visual map editor designed by the students which allow anyone to input the routes. This means that the app can be customised by a sighted person for any locality frequented by a visually impaired user. 

Currently, however, the app works on global positioning system signals. The second phase of the project will incorporate wireless triangulation so that the app can be used indoors when GPS signals are weak. 

The student developers from NP's School of InfoComm Technology, Sam Yong, Bue Bu and Neo Yi Wei, were inspired after visiting Dialogue in the Dark, a social enterprise based at NP that aims to create an awareness of the challenges faced by the visually impaired. 

They designed the app for their final year project and received S$118,000 in funding from the Tote Board. 

Mr Muhammad Zahier, a guide with Dialogue in the Dark, said: "The app could tell me where I am... how far I should walk before I turn somewhere. Those GPS devices don't really guide me in a walking sense. It's more like they tell me how far I am from my destination." 

Other visually impaired Singaporeans TODAY spoke to welcomed the development of the new app. They cited the challenges of moving around among crowds in a building. Assistant Professor Wong Meng Ee, who lectures at the National Institute of Education, said the app would complement the use of white canes or guide dogs, Guide dogs, for example, may not be allowed at certain locations. 

He suggested that the app could also provide information about nearby amenities such as shops or eateries, by tapping existing databases in other apps such as HungryGoWhere or FourSquare.

The app is still being tested, but the developers hope to have it ready for use in the next two months. They also hope to eventually upload it on iTunes, customised with more locations. The developers said they are in talks with Singapore's bus operators to customise transport features into the app. 

The idea is to let visually impaired commuters know how far away the bus is. When on board the bus, the app would tell them when they are approaching their desired bus stop number.

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Source: TODAY (Online), mediacorp