New initiative uses smartphones to improve navigation for wheelchair users

6 Sep 2018520 Views

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Screenshot of Route4U in action. Image: Fingal County Council

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A new scheme launching nationwide this month will make it easy for people to help make Irish pathways more accessible.

A Fingal County Council accessibility initiative, in partnership with Dublin City Council and Enterprise Ireland, is being rolled out nationwide during the month of September after a successful pilot programme in Swords and Dublin’s docklands.

Smart Dublin scheme aiding accessibility

The Route4U app partnership won the Enterprise Ireland Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Wayfinding Challenge, which was initiated by Fingal County Council and Dublin City Council. The app was used under the Smart Dublin initiative in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, to try and find a way to improve accessibility for people with disabilities in public spaces.

Fingal County Council was commissioned to do a preliminary survey of footpath accessibility in the centre of Swords as well as within the Dublin docklands. In Swords, Main Street, Swords Castle and County Hall were surveyed.

Harnessing the power of sensors

Using the Route4U app, the council compiled data on footpath obstacles, surface quality and kerb heights in crossings, as well as widths and inclines of footpaths. Using this data, it was able to provide route planning and turn-by-turn navigation for wheelchair users, customised to everyone’s own abilities.

The database is kept constantly up to date by volunteers, who can either be able-bodied people who simply download the app and report obstacles they bump into, or wheelchair users who switch on the ‘auto-survey’ function as they roll along the footpaths, activating their phone sensors to collect data automatically.

Easy to take part

Tamás Székely of Route4U said they will be encouraging people all over the country to download the app and report footpath obstacles. “To upload a report really takes less than 30 seconds and it can save a lot of struggling for many wheelchair users. Moreover, the collected data are prioritised and fed back to the local councils, so enabling them to make smarter decisions regarding their footpath infrastructures.”

Route4U was started three years ago in Budapest and now has users all over the globe and works with cities in Hungary, UK, Ireland and France. The app is free to download on iOS and Android devices.

The developers’ goal is to make accessibility visible and searchable online, on a global platform that gets better every day with the active contribution of the community.

“In the work that has already been done in Swords, we have seen how useful the Route4U app is for wheelchair and pram users. As a council, we are urging everybody to download the app and start mapping their local area,” said John Quinlivan, head of corporate affairs and governance at Fingal County Council.

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com