As part of our development work on assistive devices to help persons with a visual impairment, Float has researched outdoor navigation aids for people who are visually impaired and blind.
Outdoor apps are usually designed differently than apps for navigation indoors in that they usually include a GPS system for some or all of their data gathering. (GPS systems are not used indoors because they are unreliable inside buildings and of little use for effective navigation.)
We know it is important to find the navigation aid that works best for each individual. While one aid can be suitable for a person with a high level of vision loss, it can be unsuitable for someone with a different level of vision loss.
With this in mind, here are 9 apps or devices that have been developed to help people with low to no vision find their way in the outside world, along with a description of each app from their applicable app store or vendor.
(READ MORE: Look at this white paper on digital assistive wayfinding and navigation (DAWN) technologies.)
1. Ariadane GPS
Ariadane is used to navigate by tapping on streets. The app then presents voice directions for quick exploration of the area. The app vibrates the user’s iPad after a street has been crossed and can announce bus or train stops. It works in several languages for navigation using Google Maps.
2. Be My Eyes
This app allows a sighted person to “be the eyes” for a person who’s blind in need of help moving through an unfamiliar environment, both indoors and outdoors. Be My Eyes uses a live video connection, allowing blind users to call to request help from a sighted person. As soon as the first sighted volunteer accepts the request for help, a live audio-video connection is set up between the two. Then, the sighted user can tell the blind person what they see when the blind user points his or her phone at something using the rear-facing camera. This app has been reviewed by the American Federation for the Blind.
BlindSquare uses GPS and the internal compass in a smartphone to locate the user, then gathers information about the surrounding environment from the Foursquare website. BlindSquare uses algorithms to decide what information is the most relevant and then speaks it to the user with a synthesized voice. (iOS only)
This small wearable device uses ultrasound to detect obstacles that may lie directly in one’s path. It then notifies the user of these obstacles through vibrations, allowing the user to navigate around any objects that they may encounter, including head-level obstacle detection for outdoors navigation. A video on Buzzclip shows it in action.
This app tells the user where they are and how to get to their destination. Navigational guidance automatically speaks before and after every intersection. Users can ask GetThere for their current location, the distance to the nearest intersection, and a description of unusually shaped intersections, all by shaking their mobile device. It also detects when the person has gone off the planned route, and what they need to do to get back on track. A notification alarm can be set to indicate when a person is close to their destination, a useful feature for travel by bus or train.
Nearby Explorer uses onboard maps and GPS, so no live data connection is required for navigation. It includes complete maps for the United States and Canada. The app works by letting a user select from among 18 different location-related announcements that include typical items like street name and address, as well as specialized options like approaching streets and nearby places with the distance and direction to them. This app has been reviewed by the American Federation for the Blind.
LookAround for the iPhone, with VoiceOver, announces the current street, city, cross street, heading, and nearby points of interest.
Talking Goggles continuously checks a video stream for familiar images, and will speak out the name of the image when it recognizes it. The app recognizes most images within seconds, including logos, landmarks, books, products, artwork, text, and more.
This simple Android app is a navigation aid with a built-in compass that points towards a specific street address. It periodically updates the status bar with the user’s current location in relation to the nearest street address. Users can input a destination and directly launch Maps Navigation in Walking Directions mode.
This list is only the tip of the iceberg on new outdoor navigational apps that assist persons with a visual impairment. There are dozens more in this list of over 130 assistive technologies for persons who are blind or have a visual impairment.
We hope you find an app for outdoor navigation that works for you.
What’s your favorite app on this list?