People with disabilities often need a special navigation support. However, the current navigation systems (for vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles) are not useful for moving around in wheelchairs, avoiding obstacles and barriers along the way.
Many companies have probably given up trying to do this because of the GPS system’s margin of error in terms of the position of obstacles and the high costs of creating routes for wheelchairs (including classifying the routes depending on the user’s degree of disability, and features such as whether or not the user is accompanied by another person).
In the meantime, wheelchair users have to go “on an adventure”, especially when they move their wheelchairs around places where they have never been before, guiding its control system at all times, and often in a non-ergonomic position.
The solution is to create a new ”wheelchair mode” for navigation systems, where the routes can be provided either by the system’s users (e.g. Web 2.0) or by businesses, institutions and interested parties.
Its use in a “guide mode” (where the device limits itself to providing turn by turn guiding instructions) would boost these people’s confidence when moving around in unknown places and, therefore, their level of autonomy.
By integrating the navigation devices into the wheelchair architecture in a modular way, those indications would help to create an “automatic pilot” that guides the wheelchair autonomously while the user only has to use the controls when encountering a temporary or permanent obstacle. In the latter case, the system would report that information to the route so that it would be useful for the next users passing along the same route.
The main innovative features that make this system viable and useful are the accurate location of the elements provided by Galileo and the collaborative application to obtain obstacle-free routes when moving around in a wheelchair.
That accuracy is indispensable for enabling automatic wheelchair guidance based on the navigator’s indications. In any case, other types of sensors are required in order to detect situations not envisaged in the map, enabling the system to react to these types of unpredictable events. Moreover, the automatic guidance is deactivated when the person uses the controls, going into the manual or guide mode when stumbling upon obstacles or difficult areas.
As it evolves, the system will be able to include many other innovative functions such as changing the routes directly from the point where an obstacle or an increasing complexity of the route is perceived, or asking for assistance if users become isolated or their wheelchair breaks down (something like “road assistance” applied to wheelchairs).
Using NavChair will provide wheelchair users with enormous mobility and autonomy in their lives, contributing to their inclusion in society.
For example, their inclusion in the workplace will improve since they will be able to travel to work using routes that can be expanded by including the adapted public transport systems in them, providing access to other new linked routes. Public institutions want to boost this type of movility (European Disability Forum).
Wheelchair users will also be able to travel autonomously. They would have routes in other cities where they can move around, encouraging them to travel to those.
Therefore, companies will be able to see the benefits when people check their websites before traveling, and decide to go to those places and use their services (hotels, restaurants, museums, etc.) since they will provide information about accessibility.
The system must have a support website so that users can collaborate in the creation and sharing of routes. The routes can previously be recorded and uploaded to the website or created directly in it, inserting points of interest, classifying sections, etc. Therefore, institutions, companies and associations can also create them, apart from the users themselves.
There will be a system in which those routes can be stored and checked. To enhance quality and avoid abuse, there can be a user reputation system in which the routes and creators can be evaluated, based on the valuation provided by other users, and a recommendation system that provides routes based on the types used previously by the user (closeness, cultural routes, etc.), thus ensuring that they are adapted to the ability of the user in question.
The navigation device in question will also be necessary, monitoring and recording the routes, and possibly providing information to the storing system.
This device would be able to manage an automatic pilot system, integrated into the wheelchairs in a modular way.
The system should be able to diversify the navigation device’s interfaces based on the user’s disability. This would be resolved in a modular design, making sure that the navigator’s interface is interchangeable (the web system would use the accessibility tools of the operating systems).
Although the system would initially not include indoor navigation, this would be easy to integrate in the future by adding other localization technology to the navigators.
People with disabilities would be the main beneficiaries of this type of navigation system for wheelchairs.
However, the system may also be interesting for companies and organizations that want to provide their services to this population segment. Cities (Accessible Rome), hotels, restaurants, museums, tourist and cultural centers (the Alhambra route adapted for wheelchair access), etc., may be very interested in showing themselves as points of interest accessible for wheelchairs in order to attract people to their businesses.
In their commitment to “mobility enabling” accessibility, public bodies themselves are the main parties interested in improving the quality of life of people with disabilities through that mobility (e.g. the e-Adept project). The European Commission for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal
All those target groups would benefit once this idea is implemented, so all of them would obviously be potential customers of the final system.