Open Mobility Manifesto

What does it take to change the urban environment to provide the necessary infrastructure for an open navigation system for blind and visually impaired?

We are proposing an open & modular hardware/software ecosystem to tailor for the wide range of navigational challenges and use-cases that the visually impaired may experience while independently exploring unfamiliar places.

The good news is that the blind and visually impaired are already using a wide range of navigational systems. Specifically, the iPhone with its voiceover accessibility features in combination with apps like BlindSquare and MyWay provide a well working solution to receiving information like current position and points of interest close by.

There are bigger challenges to solve along the way. Turn-by-turn routing is already being used for this context but it is still not tailored to the needs of the blind and visually impaired. Indoor navigation is another open topic, for which there are promising research-projects with beacons currently in development. In many cities around the world, public transport information systems are mostly accessible for the blind and visually impaired, but these are in often very specific and localized solutions that differ from city to city and country to country. GPS is still too unreliable when it comes to the exact positioning (it makes a big difference if you stand on the side-walk or on the street) and more precise systems like Galileo are still a long way away to being available.

Open vs. Smart City

The term “smart city” is heavily promoted by city authorities and the big IT-companies around the world. It paints a picture of a future where our cities are connected through technology that will be omnipresent in every step of urban life - most likely built and maintained by big corporates and where the access is controlled exclusively by the city authorities. This development towards the “smart city” holds a big opportunity for an open infrastructure. Navigational systems for the blind and visually impaired could build upon all these connected sensors and information systems. The big question remains if the access to this future infrastructure will be opened up in a way that an open ecosystem for navigational needs could rise from it.

Our approach

We are focusing on tangible interface solutions for the blind and visually impaired to connect and interact with the city environment using the smartphone’s capabilities for a wide range of navigational needs. In parallel we want to kickstart an open discussion about the city infrastructure of tomorrow to have an realistic chance that our interface can act unrestricted within that.

Our constraints

  • Use applied technology which is widely available
  • Use low-cost and open technology where possible
  • Make it easy to fix, adapt and plug into existing services.

Our key questions

  • How do we create an open navigation system for the blind and visually impaired that is self-reliant and sustainable without being dependent on funding to continue development?
  • How do we get people with the right skills and knowledge to be involved?
  • How can we promote standards for an open urban infrastructure, where haptic and audio based interfaces can seamlessly interact with software applications (e.g. smartphone apps and APIs) and hardware elements (beacons, GPS, public transport systems)?
  • What is needed to actually manufacture a new generations of interfaces while keeping it economically worthwhile and viable for all stakeholders?