GPS navigation for the blind

An Austrian inventor has developed a braille-based GPS navigation system that is designed to help blind people get around more easily.

GPS navigation for the blind
User testing the braille GPS. Photo:

Markus Schmeiduch from Upper Austria, together with Andrew Spitz of France and Ruben van der Vleuten of the Netherlands have developed a prototype system that uses braille to provide immediate feedback and navigation assistance for users with visual impairment.

The device is attached to a cane, and allows the user to 'read' the directions by using a set of tiny pins that generate braille information.

The prototype has three main parts – a GPS or Galileo receiver, that is accurate to half a meter; a crowd-sourced map system that is optimized for walking to important locations; and a special interface to sense the route ahead and report problems.

Using Bluetooth, the device can interface with a smart phone for programming and updates. The device can receive instructions verbally.

Unlike a traditional GPS, the BlindMaps system doesn't use voice feedback, so as not to distract the user from important environmental audio cues (like the sound of an approaching tram.)

Instead, it uses a grid of pins that provide real-time guidance on direction and obstacles, which can be read using the fingertips of the user who may be holding the device in one hand.

The BlindMaps system was originally conceptualized as part of the Copenhagen Institute for Interaction Design.

It recently won an innovation award at the Prix Ars Electronica in Linz

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