The Journey of Orientation – from Collective Information to High End Personal Assistance with IBeacons
Anderas Gaufer, Bluecellnetworks GmbH, Markus Hammrich, Zentrum Für Integrierte Verkehrssysteme GmbH
The paper presents the journey from technology free collective information systems up to very specialized personal assistance systems for blind and visually impaired persons to the upcoming iBeacon based systems for the mass market.
One of the most challenging future tasks for growing cities and municipalities is ensuring the provision of environmentally friendly and people-oriented mobility for everyone. But, people are different. And as different they are, as different are their needs for assistance during travel. The concept to inform mobile people by collective information systems on base of visual and acoustic information for everybody ends, where special needs start. E.g. for blind and visually impaired persons, the need for details and accuracy is a completely different level.
A very personal and special assistance was provided in a project in the German city of Melsungen. With the help of a special RFID-reader-equipped cane for blind and visually impaired people, users are able to be guided very accurate on a RFID-equipped path by acoustic signals and useful information through the city centre. Interesting lessons have been learned, like not existing standardisation and huge differences and expectations within this user group will be told.
With the upcoming iBeacon based systems a promising application for the mass market is located in between the field of collective passenger information and very special personal assisting systems. Where the well-known GPS ends (indoors), this technology is able to help, keeping people on track.
With the latest spread of the new Bluetooth low energy standard, totally new services for accurate localization and orientation are in reach and already in use. In cooperation of BlueCellNetworks and Favendo, a whole new user experience was provided to travellers at the Dusseldorf Hauptbahnhof (one of the six most frequented connecting-stations in Germany with about 250.000 Travellers per day, 16 long-distance-train tracks, 4 tramway tracks und 4 subway tracks). For a 3-month test-period a network of 250 Beacons provided precise indoor navigation from the entrance to train tracks, facilities and stores.
The complex two-Floor-Building is a real challenge for almost everyone, not only for elderly, non-frequent Travellers. This might be a major reason, why many travellers still rely on their own car instead of using public transports. Several permanent installations in Germany will follow very soon.
Based on the iBeacon-Technology and modern smartphones, the installed Location Based Service (LBS) works as personal navigator, which is guiding people along to their destination, for example the shortest way to the track. In this way LBS does not only help decreasing travellers stress level but also can be regarded as a huge step towards a disabled-adapted environment in transport intersections by guiding via audio guide or showing accessible ways to the tracks. By improving accessibility the iBeacon based LBS therefore is an efficient contribution to creating a better participation in society for everybody, including people with impairments.
The intelligent Train Station of tomorrow is closer than you might think: In fact future started already at London’s St. Pancras Railway Station where the System is already in daily use.
In Dusseldorf250 iBeacons have been rolled out in a defined area to provide exact indoor location and navigation. Indoor spaces often block cell signals and make it nearly impossible to locate devices via GPS. That’s why we rely on Beacons as a solution. Beacons are a low-cost piece of hardware — small enough to attach to a wall or countertop — that use battery-friendly, low-energy Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or prompts directly to a smartphone or tablet with the installed Application. This taylor-made iOS App on the mobile device i.e. Smartphone, iPhone, iPad or even wearables of the traveller takes him by the hand, knowing all the when- and whereabouts of the trip.
Association for European Transport