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Public Space Navigation for All

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PAL (Public Space Navigation for All)

Reporting period: 2016-08-01 to 2017-01-31

In recent years accessibility of public services has gained importance, with both policy and regulation at European and national level supporting the introduction of accessible services, and also new market players launching initiatives and products.

PAL is a feasibility study aiming to understand how technology can help blind and visually impaired persons navigate better inside large complex infrastructures like airports and train stations.

For blind people, especially when vision loss occurred at a later stage in life, mobility is suddenly greatly reduced and this in turn leads to a significant loss in the general quality of life and hinders full integration of the individual into society. When seeking to live independently, new environments pose a huge challenge for all visually impaired people. In fact, current training programs for them involve memorizing a large amount of information for numerous points of interest (i.e. bus terminals, train stations) leading to an increase in personal frustration.

Navigation in outdoor environments has been greatly improved with the advance and use of GPS, however indoors, where GPS signals are not available, there are still a number of challenges to overcome even with people able to see, especially when it concerns complex, large-scale unfamiliar locations. There are a number of technologies available for use by visually impaired people but there is need to provide an integrated solution of wayfinding and navigation that is easy to operate and works seamlessly.

The mission is PAL is to become the leading provider of indoor navigation systems and applications in Europe for blind and visually impaired people helping them to live independently and act on their own.

The overall objectives of PAL were to frame better the indoor navigation use case for blind and visually impaired persons and to understand the needs of stakeholders in more detail to this respect. The project also aimed in verifying the technical feasibility of the PAL system, a previous development of the project partners, and analysing the economic viability of the approach. To this end, we gained knowledge about competing solutions and the current state of the art with regards indoor navigation of blind and visually impaired persons. The study helped us also to identify the boundaries of the PAL vision, the technical challenges ahead and how to overcome them.
The feasibility study carried out showed that there is a clear need for the PAL system and the proposed use case. The PAL end-users are not served by any application yet that can fulfil their requirements in indoor navigation.

Our study revealed that infrastructure providers, namely airports, PAL’s primary target group, have considerable yearly costs for providing special assistance services that PAL can help to reduce. Moreover airports need to comply with existing regulations that support accessibility of buildings for mobility impaired persons.

The integration and participation of end-users plays a key role in the development of indoor navigation systems. Therefore, PAL has aimed to integrate, motivate and activate different relevant stakeholder end-user groups (e.g. organisations of blind and visually impaired people, departments that care for fully accessibility, research partners, end-users) to establish a strong, continuous and extensive user-centred design approach in PAL. We determined the following key aspects that are perceived by end-users as particularly important for an indoor navigation system:

* Smooth crossing between outdoor / indoor intersections
* High availability and accuracy of position
* Mobile application as a useful extension of their own navigational training and awareness

Furthermore, the following three levels of service requirements have been identified:

* Level 1: PAL should build on existing regulations that affect accessibility of buildings and other constructions. These regulations are valid for new buildings and in the general sense also when rebuilding or renovating. There are many national and special cases that need to be considered.
* Level 2: Support of special assistance services e.g. calling help, information about state of escalators should form part of the system.
* Level 3: On-demand navigation for adjusting plans and routes, but also a module to prepare from home should be made available.

There is competition around specific areas of the PAL use case, which however builds on deploying a completely new technology (iBeacons) which from our experience is very difficult to motivate. The competition analysis showed a lot of opportunities that we can realise with PAL and has not identified any substantial threat from the current players.

The identified opportunities for PAL include:

* Wide acceptance and demand for wayfinding applications
* Evidence of willingness of users to explore environments despite disabilities, provided that the underlying infrastructure supports this.
* Increasing number of people using special assistance at travel hubs.
* The uptake in the construction industry of digital technologies and tools, e.g. BIM (which results in readily available and machine readable digital artefacts to be used by indoor apps) and the emergence of Smart buildings
* Improvement of image-based technique algorithms for localisation.
* Considerable growth expected for the indoor location market.

The PAL feasibility study allowed us to understand better the needs of stakeholders (e.g. airports, end-users, end-user organisations), gain knowledge about competitors, define the technological challenges and how we are going to solve them, identify risks and elaborate a strategic approach in business development as well to increase the visibility of the companies involved.
The PAL solution is based on advanced state of the art the partners have co-developed. The main innovation is on the integration of several individual subsystems (indoor localisation, floor plan annotation, routing, mobile application) and the provision of a full service flexible platform that can be easily customised for additional travel hubs.

It is estimated that around 1.5% of the people travelling use special assistance services and that 8-10% of these are blind and visually impaired persons. To put the figures in context we estimate that these are around 7,000 persons for Heathrow, 6000 persons for Frankfurt, 2000 persons for Brussels and 1000 persons for Edinburgh airport per month. The PAL system will help them to plan their travel independently and navigate safely within airports and travel hubs.

The problem PAL is aiming to solve is important and the basis for an Inclusive Society. The ability to navigate from point A to B is an integral part of daily life. Moreover, services helping visually impaired travellers, especially digital maps and wayfinding, can result in unintended benefits for all people, and especially those that are arriving to the travel hub for the very first time.

The solution offered by PAL can help national actors implement the national legislations for equal access rights as well as the Commission's Non-Discrimination Action Plan, the EC Directive on Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Mobile User Interface of PAL
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