Beacon technology image
Credit: Government News

New technology is helping people with a vision impairment get around Melbourne’s Central Business District by providing helpful information about obstacles through audio messages.

The virtual GPS beacons, which provide information about obstacles, are situated at intersections along different streets in the Australian city. The beacons use the BlindSquare phone app to provide audio messages to users, including the location of obstacles and information about construction works.

Guide Dogs Victoria was commissioned to develop the technology, which is designed to be used alongside other mobility aids, such as a cane or guide dog.

Councillor Beverley Pinder, Chair of City of Melbourne’s People City portfolio, says Council has been following the development of beacon technology for a while.

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She told Government News: “We want people of all abilities to feel secure and empowered as they go about their lives in the city – these beacons are an additional resource that supports people with a disability to access our wonderful city.”

The beacons are GPS satellite points that are programmed remotely and are particularly suitable for outdoor spaces. However, Councillor Pinder noted that these beacons are not so accurate for indoors due to GPS signal accuracy, so there are also a number of physical GPS points installed around Melbourne to send location-based messages that the app picks up.

The technology was created using the insights of visually impaired people to ensure the technology and audio messages are helpful and relevant. People can also provide feedback through the app to facilitate continued improvement.

According to Government News, Melbourne would like to roll out the beacon technology to more locations, but wants to ensure the existing beacons are working well for visually impaired people first.

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