Wayfindr is unlocking London for the blind

By Oliver Smith 4 December 2015

A new service promises independence for the blind using London Underground.

Navigating through London’s often gridlocked Underground system can be challenging at the best of times.

For the vision impaired it’s often an impossibility, leaving them with the challenge of seeking assistance from station staff.

While spoken directions from Google Maps, or a number of other apps for blind people, might be fine for navigating London above ground, they’re useless below ground where mobile reception and GPS are in short supply.

But that might soon be changing with the help of a new service called Wayfindr which uses bluetooth beacons, a smartphone and a pair of headphones to track the user and provide audio directions.

Because Wayfindr knows exactly where you are in a station, using the bluetooth beacons to figure that out, its spoken directions come in the form of “left”, “right” or “face 10 o’clock then walk forward.”

Wayfindr was developed by Ustwo, the London creative studio that also created hit smartphone game Monument Valley, in partnership with the Royal London Society for Blind People and with a $1m grant from Google.

Earlier this year the tech was trialled at one of London’s smaller Underground stations, Pimlico, and is now being tested in Euston station, one of London’s busiest stations.

“Ultimately this innovative project is about giving our vision-impaired customers the flexibility to travel with the same independence and spontaneity as everyone else,” said London Underground’s capital programmes director David Waboso.

London Underground hopes to roll the technology out across its stations if the trial proves successful.

Looking ahead Wayfindr hopes its tech can be developed to work across other parts of the city, from shopping centres to hospitals.

But for the time being our labyrinthine Underground network is set to become a little more accommodating and inclusive for all Londoners.