It kind of works like GPS only for interior spaces, letting people with vision problems know where hallways, stairs, and offices are located, and can even be updated instantly if there is a slippery floor in a washroom.
The university has “placed iBeacons in the Odette student building to provide an independent indoor navigation experience,” Best said, noting it’s the first such endeavour on a Canadian campus.
It was set up in cooperation with the university’s human rights and accessibility office.
Apple invented the system using low energy Bluetooth devices called I-Beacons.
A collection of them, known appropriately enough as the Beacon Positioning System, is mounted on walls or other objects, providing the traveller with answers to questions like “where am I” and “where can I go from here.”
All the user does is download the app to their iPhone.
It conveys information via a dedicated speech synthesizer and also by Braille, if a refreshable Braille device has been connected to Apple’s iOS.
Not only does it provide direct navigation but offers “cautions and clues” as to what’s ahead on the route, such as stairways, ramps, elevators, escalators and objects that can be hazards like rope-cordons or bumps.
And it can provide information as to the closest washrooms, all received simply by walking with the device in hand.
The beauty for those owning the buildings, such as colleges, companies, arts and convention centres, is that the i-Beacons are small and have two year life batteries, and require no building supports like WiFi or power.
Best, a former IBM web developer and who will be attending the Windsor event Dec. 9, has just helped introduce the first pilot system in Canada to help the visually impaired - nearly 200,000 in Ontario alone - navigate the indoors.
That first iBeacons network launched last month inside the headquarters of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) in north Toronto.
Best believes the technology can “sweep aside travel barriers, boost blind independence and open up worlds beyond the tip of the cane."