In today’s busy society, transportation is much more than a convenient means of getting from A to B. It is a lifestream that drives human coexistence through many aspects of our lives – whether work, education, health care, or leisure activities.
For blind and visually impaired passengers, navigating through a transportation hub can feel like solving a giant maze. Basic tasks such as reading directional signs or identifying platform changes become difficult challenges. Transportation systems are largely designed for visually impaired individuals, creating a significant access gap that hinders freedom and independence for visually impaired people.
However, there is a silver lining as technology is poised to bridge the divide.
Recently, our team at the University of Birmingham undertook a pioneering research project, working with bright yellow and funded by wm5g, The project aims to address the challenging task of way finding passengers around railway stations. Taking advantage of state-of-the-art technology, the project developed a detailed system that operates in three distinct phases: data preparation, routing engine bootstrap, and intrastation routing.
The focus of data preparation is to transform existing 2D floor plans into usable data for algorithms. This process interprets these plans to indicate important elements, such as areas for vertical transportation (stairs, elevators), navigable routes, and potential obstacles. This phase establishes an accurate and comprehensive visual representation of the station’s layout.
Once the data is sufficiently prepared, the focus shifts to the Bootstrap engine. In this step, the annotated floor plan is imported and translated into navigable mesh and graph-based data structures. This conversion is necessary to enable the routing process, effectively turning the physical station into a digitally navigable environment.
The final phase, intrastation routing, begins after the data is mapped and processed. This step employs Dijkstra’s algorithm; Given a start and end point, the algorithm determines the most efficient route and in turn generates a coordinate path. This path construction can be used for augmented reality purposes, such as guiding a passenger through a station to their platform.
The simplicity and scalability of the path-finding system is one of its greatest strengths. Since the application only requires a 2D floorplan, adding new stations to the software is a straightforward process. Existing floor plans can be easily adapted and annotated, allowing data sets to be generated for any station with minimal effort and resource usage. As a result, the way-finding system can be continuously expanded and updated, keeping pace with the evolving transport layout and ensuring the widest possible coverage for passengers.
We can take this a step further for visually impaired passengers. More than simply presenting visual data, the application can integrate hearing aids such as verbal instructions, hazard warnings and device-based directions. This listening feature will not only voice the details of the station layout, but also warn on any impending obstruction. In addition, it will serve as an interface to reach out to station staff, thereby fostering an uninterrupted communication channel for immediate assistance.
with International Blind Sport Federation (IBSA) World Games Now underway at the University of Birmingham, there could be no better time to take advantage of this innovative technology. But most of all, it underscores our commitment to inclusivity and equal opportunity – a world where transportation systems accommodate everyone regardless of their physical abilities.
This project only scratches the surface of the possibilities. As technology continues to evolve, so does our ability to improve transportation access for people with disabilities, bringing us one step closer to a service that truly understands and serves all of its residents. does. After all, the purpose of transportation is not just to get someone to a destination, but to ensure that everyone gets there with ease, safety, and dignity. Technology can be the compass to guide us towards this inclusive future.
Dr Jo Preece, Research Fellow in Railway Data Analysis – Birmingham Center for Rail Research and Education