The New Technology Helping Visually Impaired-People Get Around Bucharest

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Romanian start-up Onyx Beacon is making Bucharest “the first city in the world to officially develop a large‐scale technological solution for independent guidance and orientation of visually‐impaired people within the public transport network”.

Advanced technology is being used to create the ‘Smart Public Transport’ (SPT) solution. It uses Bluetooth hardware units, iBeacons, mounted to buses, which communicate interactively with an app on mobile devices, managed by a cloud‐based platform.

Onyx Beacon said: “Smart Public Transport is an integrated solution delivering multimedia notifications and guiding access to transportation vehicles. The mobile application helps users to configure complex routes within the public transport infrastructure in Bucharest and will be accessible free of charge to all RATB (the public transport company in Bucharest) passengers.”

Here’s how it works: the visually impaired user’s smartphone receives a signal from the iBeacon when a bus that suits his or her planned route is approaching. A notification then comes through when the bus is 50-60 metres away, which is read out to the user from the phone by a voiceover application. The cloud platform will tell a specific vehicle’s iBeacon that a user wants to use that service, so when it has arrived, the iBeacon’s buzzer will emit a beep signal for clearer identification. Further alerts communicate with the smartphone when the user reaches another bus station, and the smartphone can again be used to catch the next bus on the journey.

The first phase of the project will be deployed this summer, and a team of volunteers will test it in real conditions. Onyx Beacon said full implementation will be ready at the end of August 2015, with 500 iBeacon devices installed on vehicles and the mobile app being made available to the public. The company estimates that 12,000 people in the city with visual difficulties could be helped by the project.

The solution is being developed by the Onyx Beacon team in partnership with the Tandem Association, representing visually‐impaired people in Bucharest, and RATB, supported by the Vodafone Romania Foundation.

The Vodafone Foundation chose to fund SPT as part of its “Mobile for Good” program, which champions the use of technology for positive social change.

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Credit Photo: Jake Stimpson from flickr

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