Wayfindr: The beginning

Katherine Payne
August 5, 2014

A productive collaboration between (global digital product design studio) ustwo, and the RLSB Youth Forum led to the rapid prototyping of an aid to navigation on the London transport network, for vision-impaired people. This was recently trialled at Pimlico Underground Station. Wayfindr will be an open, and scalable, service that aids vision impaired people in getting to their destination, independently. The service works by helping its users transition seamlessly between different modes of public transport.

Using existing iBeacon (BLE) and smartphone technology, and drawing on the experience of simulated journeys with limited sight on the network, ustwo developed a location-tracking system that provided audio guidance via bone-conduction headphones. Refining and testing the product with the RLSB Youth Forum throughout the exercise led to real advances in understanding the challenges faced by young vision-impaired people, and the growing possibilities of an affordable tech solution.

In March 2014 the RLSB Youth Forum released England’s first ever manifesto for vision impaired young people. It represents the views of vision impaired young people, to bring the community together and make changes that will improve life for future generations of vision impaired young people. One of the key issues highlighted in the manifesto is transport:

Just like many young people our age, particularly in London, we rely on public transport to get around, to see our friends, get to college and to work. Unlike our sighted peers we cannot learn to drive; we have no choice but to rely on public transport and other people to get around. Just over half of the vision impaired young people we spoke to feel confident using the London Underground, but this still leaves almost half of our peers unable to make full use of the network. -

You can watch a video about the RLSB Youth Manifesto below.

ustwo worked with members of the Youth Forum to imagine technology-enabled ways to make independent travel more feasible. Following journeys by the ustwo team on the London Underground, under conditions of simulated limited sight, and the rapid prototyping and testing of potential solutions with Youth Forum members a working prototype of Wayfindr was created.

Wayfindr is an app that guides users from waypoint to waypoint, using normal smartphones and beacons at transport terminals equipped with existing Bluetooth iBeacon (BLE) technology. Once the app is activated, the user is located by the nearest beacons (through a process called trilateration), their location is mapped on their device and then directions are transmitted through bone conducting earphones.

Wayfindr is a practical and affordable aid to navigation for vision impaired people. Our joint project with ustwo is a great example of how charities and the private sector can work together, applying the latest approaches in digital design to make a difference, rapidly. - Courtney Nugent, Head of the Transport Working Group of the Youth Forum at the RLSB
Wayfindr came out of our allocated studio time that we devote to working on projects that can help make a real difference to people, in turn this allocated time allows us to explore and experiment with new technologies (tools) and methods that we can take back into out client work. What we learned whilst tackling this challenge is that young vision impaired people cherish their independence, like all people of their age. What we accomplished with Wayfindr is something that will complement existing efforts by public transport operators to help them achieve it. We have received incredible feedback about it in discussions with these operators and a trial is in the offing - Umesh Pandya, CEO, Wayfindr

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Katherine Payne

Our team combines the digital product and user centred design expertise of ustwo, with the Royal London Society for Blind People’s 175 years of experience working with blind people.