Those with full eyesight take for granted how straightforward it feels to walk in an urban environment. Navigation becomes infinitely more complex when sight is no longer a reliable way to process the surroundings. BlindMaps is a hands-on research project around this question: how can the visually impaired be given the freedom of exploring and navigating in an unfamiliar urban context.
How did it all start?
The initial concept was made in January 2012 at the Copenhagen Institue of Interaction Design as part of an 36h investigation. Fast Company wrote about it in February 2013 and many people contacted us since then to say that they were interested in having Blind Maps for themselves or for their loved ones.
In November 2013 we decided to continue with the project as part of the CreativeRegion / Cross-Innovation.eu programme to further develop the concept in Linz, Berlin & Amsterdam with first design prototypes, which where 3D printed at FROLIC Studio in Amsterdam and with user-tests on the streets of Berlin with Silja Korn.
We learned a lot from this process and realised that white cane users are asking for a solution that seamlessly integrates into the grip of their white cane and that the moving pins are not only a very convoluted interface to feel but also hugely challenging to build. So we decided to not focus on a futuristic-solving-all-problems-at-once solution, which only could be realised after many years of work and millions spent, but instead switch over to a low-cost and iterative process where we use existing off-the-shelf technology. With this approach, it is a more realistic project that can be developed and released as affordable and working products in the near future and be used by the blind and visually impaired around the globe.
In March 2014, we applied for the Next-Big-Idea Grant by the Ars Electronica Festival Linz (sponsored by Voestalpine) with the hopes to continue development on this project. We received the grant & award! And so from June of 2014 till September 2014 we worked on new prototypes and continued defining the BlindMaps project, which now consists of several working prototypes for user-testing and to be publicly presented during the Ars Electronica Festival 2014.
We are currently doing user-testing session with blind people to further improve the prototypes. In parallel, we are looking into what would be needed to actually manufacture some of the BlindMaps prototypes and we are collaborating with Ilkka Pirttimaa to fully integrate into the widely popular BlindSquare iPhone App.
It’s important to us to further develop this project in the context of Open-Data, Open-Hardware and Open-Design. We used (where possible) open software/hardware during our own development process and want to give credit for that: Atom Editor, Foundation Framework, Open Sans Font and Icons from TheNounProject by John Chapman, Sam Garner, Bohdan Burmich, James Keuning, Maria Maldonado, Aaron Dodson, Alex Auda Samora, Juan Pablo Bravo for this website & our video. Arduino platform, RFduino for the hardware prototypes.