SIMO - Simplified Information for Mobility & Orientation
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has estimated that by 2025, close to 500,000 Australian residents will be registered as Blind or Vision Impaired (BVI). Unofficial estimates suggest that presently there are over 1 million Australians who have a significant vision loss or impairment.
Vision loss and impairments have significant impact on Activities of Daily Living (ADL's), not only for the individual, but also those who support them. Such as immediate family and friends and co-workers. However many people do not consider themselves as impaired or disabled and just 'get on with it'. Many of these cases go unrecognised and unassisted in our society.
Welfare for people who are BVI costs the Australian tax payer billions of dollars a year. Lost business opportunities are estimated to be over AUS$40 billion annually. In the UK, the welfare cost is £49 billion per annum just for those BVI that suffer from Glaucoma and Cataracts, indicating that the overall welfare costs of blindness are much higher. Furthermore it has been estimated by IBM that the global market for products aimed specifically at disabled people ("the disability market") is over US$1 trillion.
Two of the main ADL's that are affected by Vision loss or Impairment are:
- Mobility and navigation - the ability to move about freely and independently with out assistance
- Information processing - in today's world most of our information is communicated visually. We gather our information in many different ways, through signage, text, graphics, colours or even just looking into the distance checking for dangers that may lie ahead. In all, 80% of information we retain comes from visual sources.
The University of New South Wales and Ramsey Stewart Industrial Design (RSID) have secured a four-year Australian Research Council linkage project to explore the development of a Mobility and Location Information System for the BVI. There are a number of infomobility products on the market for the BVI. However the technological bases for such products are advancing at a rapid rate, and ongoing R&D is essential to improve the quality of information, the human-computer interfaces, the communications functionality, and many other topics. This project’s research platform will be a handheld device such as a smartphone, with inbuilt Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), and indoor and outdoor positioning capability, connected to servers that can deliver a BVI person information about where they are and how to get where they want to go – in fact this is an example of a location-based service, but with the significant difference that the BVI person will not be able to read a map or text instructions.
Any infomobility system for the BVI is an integration of a number of technologies intended to provide usable and location relevant information such as street navigation, public transport timetables, points of interest, and so on. It must have a special haptic and/or speech user interface, a comfortable method of carriage, and an accurate location system for all environments. This project will investigate the special challenges of developing such a device for the BVI. Some issues to receive attention:
- Navigation and positioning for all environments - outdoors and indoors. The project will investigate derivation of location information using a combination of A-GPS, ICT (WiFi/celluar network/RFID) technologies, as well as integrating other sensor technologies such as a digital compass, barometer/altimeter, etc.
- Utilising the latest smartphone platforms/operating systems, such as from Nokia (Symbian), HTC (Android) and iPhone (Apple).
- A significant component of the research will be concerned with the special design challenges of the human-computer interface (HCI) for BVI users.
- Appropriate information services for the BVI, such as public transport timetables, points of interest for the BVI, street and crossing information, etc.
- Field trials of prototypes, as well as surveys of the BVI specifications of such mobile devices.
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