Bluetooth System for Better Orientation

The system could help visually-impaired people find public restrooms, police stations, public transportation and restaurants with Braille menus, for example. Similar systems exist, but the new one is the first known to use Bluetooth, allow people to operate it entirely with voice commands, and incorporate community-generated content through a website.

An early version was created years ago. A group of students has given the project new energy. They shrunk the receiver and switched the transmitting technology from RFID to the more popular Bluetooth. They are also exploring other technologies such as GPS.

The so-called “Talking Points” system includes several components: A mobile device picks up the Bluetooth signals and speaks or displays information to the user. In the future, a cell phone could be the receiver, but this prototype is not a phone. It is slightly larger, about the size of a paperback book. If a user wants more information about a beacon, she can tell the device by voice or touch.

Bluetooth beacons, or tags, could be located at points of interest where owners wish to give information to Talking Points users. Cities could tag information centers, parks or other buildings.

A website would allow Talking Points beacon owners to programme their tags. They could update their messages regularly. Once a beacon is added, other community members could add their comments about the point of interest. Pedestrians using the system could then choose to get those comments. In addition to developing a prototype receiver, the students tested their system in field simulations with visually-impaired and sighted people and conducted focus groups.; Source: University of Michigan