Friday, June 15, 2012

iPhone App supporting blind people's navigation: Ariadna GPS

My colleaque Paolo Fogliaroni pointed me to Ariadne GPS. It seems to be of interest for the scenario I have chosen for my PhD work: Survey knowledge acquisition with (tactile) maps, most likely for blind people.

"Ariadne GPS is more than a simple gps app. Besides offering you the possibility to know your position and to get information about the street, the number, etc. it also lets you explore the map of what's around you.

What do we mean by saying "explore"? You'll deal with a talking map. If you have VoiceOver activated on your device, you will be able to know the street names and numbers that are around you by touching them. [...] You can also explore a different region than the one around you by telling the app the street and the city."

Screenshot from the app on an iPad - get it here

The capability I am interested in the most is that this app lets you know of what's around you with the button "Explore Region". That capability could be compared to a dynamically self-updating You-are-Here map with the user being always in the middle of the map.

A big drawback of any mobile phone based map: it's small and can only cover a very limited part of the environment. This situation is slightly better when using devices with a bigger screen, like the iPad. Another drawback is that the premium channel to convey any meaning to the blind user is voice. Everythings needs to be memorized verbally. Several videos show how that would work, they are also available as audio podcast.

The advent of tactile displays/interfaces could overcome the spatial knowledge acquisition by speech only. But then there is the question how to abstract and optimize the high details visual maps or GIS data to the low detail tactile interfaces. Then my PhD work might come into play.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Development in Tactile interfaces

Some (not so) recent developments:
  1. Visual art accessible for the blind through "High-quality tactile paintings" (PDF)
  2. Touchscreens that sends tactile information to the hand through the display (video).
Both technologies mean a technical advancement per se, but to really be helpful to visually impaired people I believe a second component must come in place: cognitively motivated abstraction of the rich details a visual depiction usually has. Be invited to browse the webpage of my PhD project about cognitively-adequate schematization of tactile maps to learn more about that approach.