NEW HIGH TECNOLOGY! Kalle Heiska science journalist
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21 Oct 2001

VTT’s navigation technology guides the visually impaired

In the near future, a locating function in handheld computers will guide the user to his or her destination with an accuracy of a few metres. The technology for such a service already exists, as VTT has developed a prototype device that locates the user and guides him or her to the chosen destination in congested housing areas and even inside buildings. The prototype was made possible after extensive VTT research on the technical demands and possibilities of personal navigation.

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Once the technology is operational, anyone with such a device can receive information on services nearby, their specific location and good instructions of how to get there. The user, however, must at some point allow the system to pinpoint his or her exact position. These services are usually transmitted with short-range Bluetooth technology or long-range GSM technology (GPRS).

The traveller can use the service he or she desires in the language he or she chooses and need only ask for the information or services he or she needs. One such service is an intelligent bus system that includes timetables and bus-stop information before and during the trip.

The services for which demand exists will be launched and the same services will be within everyone’s reach. One group that will be quick to use the new services is the visually impaired - the only thing that distinguishes them from people with good vision is the interface they use.

- The visually impaired are active users of computers and the Internet. They want new mobile services because, to date, they only have one tool to help them move from place to place - the white stick. Though fairs have introduced innovations, the infrastructure has not been available until now, says Juha Sylberg, development manager of the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired.

The Federation, the Ministry of Transport and Communication, and VTT are currently formulating a three year project for the establishment of a personal navigation services test system. The project will be based on VTT’s navigation prototype and its user interface will be designed for the visually impaired from the outset.

- A community centre will be built in eastern Helsinki, from where an intelligent “Jokeri” bus route will extend to Espoo, near the Arla Institute’s school area. The school will have an intelligent connection to the Leppävaara train station, near which public services will be built. This is excellent for setting up navigation technology plans: but it is good that the community centre, the intelligent buses and the train station are still at the design stage.

The test system will offer accurate guidance to the visually impaired while in the city and inside buildings and will also make the use of public transportation more flexible. The guidance functions are based on locating devices, voice recognition, speech synthesis and smart clothing. The system is to be built from domestic, commercial components. Implementation at this stage is somewhat hindered by inaccurate electronic maps.

A ministry work group has recently submitted a proposal for making public transportation more accessible to the disabled, the elderly and other special groups.

- We hope that the Ministry of Transport and Communication’s initiative will lead to teamwork on this matter. We’ll finally have a consortium that establishes the general infrastructure, and in this way make modern navigating devices work in the hands of the visually impaired, says Sylberg.

samikoskinen.jpg (14674 bytes)
Research Scientist  Sami Koskinen
For further information please contact:

VTT Automaatio:
Research Scientist Ari Virtanen,
tel +358 (0)3 316 3609, (0)40 742 7804
Research Scientist Sami Koskinen,
tel. +358 (0)3 316 3636, (0)40 823 8022

Sylberg.jpg (15076 bytes)
Development Manager
Juha Sylberg
The Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired
Development Manager Juha Sylberg, tel. +358 (0)50 596 5025

Feel free to use all news. Kalle Heiska
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