New Smart Beacons to Open Doors for Visually Impaired People in Toronto

Smart Beacons to Open Doors for Visually Impaired People

New project called ShopTalk launched by the CNIB, a charity that provides community-based support for people who are blind or partially sighted.

The project installs and programs palm-sized Apple iBeacons that use Bluetooth wireless signals to connect with nearby users’ phones via an iPhone app called BlindSquare. It provides directions to help them navigate through doors and vestibules, to service counters, washrooms, and other important parts of buildings such as stores and restaurants. Apple had launched its version of Beacon technology, iBeacon, in 2013. It used the technology to welcome customers to its own stores and encourage them to update their software. However, it faced criticism from retailers who used it to track customers and push coupons to their phones.

Susan Vaile, visually impaired citizen uses this technology in Toronto. She just needs to listen to her smartphone: “Walk forward six meters to carpet. Service counter at 9 o’ clock.” Vaile says the beacons make it possible for customers like herself to find their way independently. Similar verbal directions are already available to customers at several other businesses in the Yonge and St. Clair neighborhood. As she passes various shops and landmarks, BlindSquare lets her know how far away they are and in what direction. But until now, the app has only worked outside. The beacons have the potential to help open new doors for people.

According to Smart Beacon Market report published by Coherent Market Insights, smart beacon is a proximity device, which transmits a signal with the help of Bluetooth low energy proximity sensing technology by using compatible application or operating system. The beacon technology has already been used in other cities around the world, most notably in Wellington, New Zealand. Project named No Dark Doors has already installed the beacons in 200 downtowns shops and plans to expand to the city’s transit system and areas outside the city’s central business district. The CNIB is hoping to similarly install 205 beacons by February 2018 around its community hub near St. Clair subway station.

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