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MnDOT to Guide Visually Impaired Through Work Zones with an App

Updated: 04/09/2014 5:21 PM
Created: 04/09/2014 3:16 PM KSTP.com
By: Todd Wilson

It's tough enough for the visually impaired to get around town. Throw in some construction zones and the difficulty level goes up a notch or two. However, an app in the works by the Minnesota Department of Transportation is working to make it a bit easier.

Anthony Lawler hit the streets for a bit of mobility training with an instructor from Vision Loss Resources in Minneapolis. He's been visually impaired his whole life. "I have Starsgardt which is a form of macular degeneration. I just have no central vision," he said.

Lawler says, since he can't drive, transportation is his biggest hurdle. To get around he relies heavily on walking. "Not necessarily because now days there's the phone which is inevitable to someone who is visually impaired," Lawler said.

He says, he leans on Google Maps and an app called Transit to get around. The MnDOT app would assist the visually impaired to get around but also help them avoid construction sites.

Chenfu Liao of the University of Minnesota is one of the developers. "We used the GPS sensor on a smart phone and the digital compass information and used blue tooth devices," Liao said.

Users like Lawler would have the app installed on their phone. "The user will approach a work zone then the phone will vibrate," Liao said. Once they hear or feel the vibration, it will announce a message.

"The phone will announce you are approaching Oak Street and Washington, you are in the Southwest corner of this street. They would receive the by pass information either to go to the other side of the street, to go around the work zone or they need to be careful as they are going through the work zone," Liao said.

A beacon will be placed at every work zone to relay all the information. Just a tap on the screen of the phone will repeat the message.

Lawler says, he wants the app as soon as it comes out. "If you've got an app running on your phone that alerts you that there's construction and to avoid it, that would be very beneficial," he said. 

This is a prototype system. Right now, the app is in the functional testing phase. It will soon move to human testing and in a year or so the app will be rolled out. 


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