San Francisco Airport rolls out beacons for the blind

Beacons will tell the visually impaired what's around them at all times
San Francisco Airport rolls out beacons for the blind

The beacons are being rolled out in its newest terminal and will be be implemented throughout the airport if this testing phase is successful. They're made by an indoor positioning company called When a user with a smartphone walks within range of a beacon, an app on the phone will pop out with relevant information.

For the visually impaired on iOS, the app will use Apple VoiceOver to read out this information as it pops up through the airport. The app also rolls out with a directory, which users may use to find points of their own interest – say to the nearest coffee shop or power outlet. The technology seems to accommodate the unimpaired as well, so the overall push here is for a smartphone-based directory system that is inclusive.

Making flying more accessible

San Francisco Airport rolls out beacons for the blind

The beacons run on battery power and push signals using low-power Bluetooth. They're non-descript, most of them match the colour of the surface they are adhered to and are generally placed above eye level. They seem to be low maintanence as well, requiring a change of battery after 4 years on the wall.

Beacons aren't universal yet but many places are testing them. Some early testers include the retailers Macy's and American Eagle. Ruben's House Museum in Antwerp, Belgium is using beacons to display information on its exhibits. Major League Baseball installed beacons in 28 of its stadiums for much the same purpose – directing visitors to points of interest and advertising park concessions.

Virgin Atlantic is also testing Apple's iBeacons collaborating with Estimote, an competitor, to install beacons around its section of London Heathrow airport. The beacons notify passengers of the airline that they are in the vicinity of Virgin lounges or club areas. They also pull up relevant boarding pass information at security checkpoints. At this time, however, Virgin's implementation is not very friendly to anyone with visual disabilities.

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[Source: The Verge]