31.08.2015 change 31.08.2015

Talking map will give directions to the blind

Source: MSc. Łukasz Markiewicz; Gdańsk University of Technology Source: MSc. Łukasz Markiewicz; Gdańsk University of Technology

It will set an appropriate route to the pharmacy or store, and warn a blind person about obstacles such as holes in the pavement or overhanging branches. "Talking map" is now fully functional only in Elbląg, but other Polish cities are waiting for it in a queue. Every Internet user can contribute to the work on the map.

There are 39 million blind people in the world, of which 90 thousand live in Poland. Those who live in large cities, almost daily have to face confusing noise, high curbs and parked cars. To their aid came scientists from the Gdańsk University of Technology, who prepared the application "Talking map" in collaboration with the Elbląg company OPEGIEKA.

The application will not replace a guide dog or a white cane for the blind or partially sighted, but it will help them find their way in the urban space. It will set an appropriate route to their destination - for example a pharmacy or store - leading to the selected location and warning of the dangers on the way.

"A blind or visually impaired person can enter an address and select the location where they want to go. They may also select the destination category: store, pharmacy, and then choose from the results found in the area. Usually, the address can be spoken, because the application has the speech recognition option. Alternatively, you can use a special keyboard for blind people" - told PAP co-author of the invention, MSc. Łukasz Markiewicz from Gdańsk University of Technology.

The user is directed to the destination in stages. "We constantly monitor his geographical location and direction. If irregularities are detected, a voice message is generated telling the user how to reach to the next stage of the route" - explained Markiewicz.

The app is available for free on the project website: http://voicemaps.giscenter.pl/. Users should have an Android device with a built-in GPS receiver. "Ordinary GPS contains and relays the information for persons travelling in cars. Our application is different in that the information is intended for walking people, and in addition it is addressed to blind people" - added the engineer.

It offers such functions as "lead to", "how far" or "describe environment", and has an interface adapted for blind people. The system has an additional "panic" button, which dials a number of a friend or relative, or technical assistance.

"We use publicly available maps: OpenStreetMap, which cover the whole world. The application can be used virtually anywhere. But for the blind, such maps will be useful if they contain additional elements such as information about low-hanging branches or parked cars" - described co-creator of the application.

That is why the invention in the test, but full version, works only in Elbląg. The city map has been expanded with information about high curbs, uncomfortable, sandy ground, parked cars, street lamps on the sidewalk, walls, barriers, holes in the road or pavement, protruding flagstones. "This way, in few months we have described the entire Elbląg and some areas of major cities in Poland" - explained Markiewicz.

In other cities maps need to be supplemented and updated. Internet users who want to provide information about their neighbourhood can now contribute. "Those wishing to help create the maps should register on the project website. There they can add information about parts of the area that are dangerous for blind people. Administrators collect these data and enter them into the system. Moderators verify the information provided by Internet users" - described Markiewicz.

The project "Talking Maps", prepared at the Faculty of Electronics, Telecommunications and Informatics, Gdańsk University of Technology, received the support from the IniTech programme of the National Centre for Research and Development.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Ewelina Krajczyńska

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