Visually impaired people in Bucharest, Romania are now travelling independently on surface public transport thanks to the first large-scale rollout of a new mobile-based navigation system, funded by the Vodafone Romania Foundation.
The Smart Public Transport (SPT) system was developed to guide people with visual impairments travelling on Bucharest’s surface public transport network without the help of a personal assistant and without relying on the intervention of other people.
The project was developed by the Tandem Association, in partnership with the Vodafone Romania Foundation, public transport body Regia Autonoma de Transport Bucuresti (RATB) and Bucharest City Hall.
More than 1,100 physical transmitter devices were mounted on all buses and trolleybuses in the RATB fleet between January 2016 and June 2017, based on the iBeacon protocol. iBeacon was first introduced by Apple in 2013, offering a class of low-energy Bluetooth proximity sensing devices that broadcast a unique identifier to nearby smartphones, tablets and other devices.
A specially enhanced iBeacon device approximately the size of a hockey puck was created for the SPT initiative, providing significantly longer range and capable of lasting up to four years before needing to be replaced.
Users with compatible smartphones download the special SPT app for free on iOS or Android and can use it to plot routes in advance. The beacon itself transmits one-way, ensuring that only the app is able to track users as they travel on public transport.
When a bus or trolleybus with the iBeacon transmitter reaches a certain distance from a user waiting at a stop, the app receives a ping from the transmitter via Bluetooth. Once the bus is within 50 metres, an audio alert notifies the user with a short message that the vehicle is approaching. The beacon itself emits a beep once the bus arrives to help users enter the vehicle.
Once on board, the SPT app utilises the GPS function on smartphones to update users with useful information, such as the location of their next station and any connections with other forms of transport.
Funding for the project has been provided by the Vodafone Romania Foundation, an NGO with charitable status operating independently from Vodafone that has invested more than €26 million in supporting community projects throughout Romania. Since 1998, the Foundation has partnered with hundreds of NGOs to develop and deliver more than a thousand projects for the benefit of vulnerable Romanians. In recent years, the Foundation has focussed on “Connecting For Good” initiatives that exploit mobile technology to improve and change the lives of sick or disadvantaged people.
Angela Galeta, Director of the Vodafone Romania Foundation, said: “For most people, jumping on or off public transport is easy, but for the visually impaired it can be challenging and potentially dangerous without a friend or fellow passenger to help out.”
“Around 900 visually impaired people in Bucharest use public transport regularly, and almost half of them have already used the app, which is provided entirely free of charge. The Connecting For Good funding has made the city’s public transport network accessible for all.”
VIDEO LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx6NeLM6Uy8
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