Saturday, March 04, 2006

Overlays of local information

There are two things that we'd like the system to do for our blind users which current GPS systems are not very good at doing (if at all):

1). Guide the user around relatively dynamic indoor environments (eg. supermarket displays that may change once a week) as opposed to street-level GPS which maybe changes significantly enough to warrant updating the device once every year at most. This point has already been elaborated on in my previous post.

2). Allow the user to access far more detailed local information at the street level than is supplied in a standard GPS package that is just designed to get the user from A to B where a postcode, street name, or town is known.

This is an interesting problem. A blind user will want to know how to find items of interest such as the nearest bus stop, train station, library, pub, specifically-named shop, even names and addresses of friends at specific house numbers, etc. To hold data for the entire country at this level would be technically infeasible not to mention constantly require updating.

A suggested solution for both of these problems lies in the idea of overlays. In brief, the Brain should store a standard style country-wide GPS system that holds major points of interest such as towns, roads, train stations, etc. Even at this very basic level a user should still be able to guide themselves around an unfamiliar town centre if they know which street their destination is on for example.

But imagine now that a blind user is taking a trip to Manchester to attend a concert. They'll need to know the locations of train stations, local bus stops, the theatre itself, and maybe a pub or restaurant to drop into on the way home afterwards. Our aim is to allow this person to do all of this without relying on anyone passing by in the street (ref: the BBC Ouch! article I mentioned earlier).

Solution: before the trip to Manchester the user downloads onto their Brain device an overlay or three for the area of Manchester. Potentially these could be supplied by wi-fi in major public areas upon arrival, such as the central train station, but for now the idea of using a home PC to achieve this seems fairly plausible.

One overlay may contain a reference to all the eating points in the Manchester area so that the user can set any one of these as the GPS destination and be guided there. Another overlay could contain all bus stops. There could be an additional set of data (perhaps provided by the local council in XML format) containing details of bus routes so the user can be guided to the nearest bus stop with a fast bus to the theatre at the touch of a few buttons on the Smart Watch.

Clearly the same principle should work in a supermarket. Upon arrival at the shop the Brain can download an overlay from the shop server via wi-fi containing details of where aisles are, displays, trolley parks, checkouts etc. are located in the shop. Further overlays could add detail to the aisles, eg. to specify that biscuits are stored at the end of aisle 3 (the user will still need to use the barcode reader to accurately pick up the desired brand however as the GPS is not going to be accurate enough for that!).

These overlays can be added and removed at will using the home PC software (see my next post) or wi-fi downloads when the user is in the environment, to give a potentially unlimited wealth of local information to the user so that they can always make their own way around an unfamiliar environment.


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