Imagine that you need to get the bus into town. You walk to the bus stop, hail it and get on. Once you see your stop, you get off and walk to your destination. Seems simple, right? But what if you couldn’t see the bus stop or the bus or even the path to walk down? What if every time you left the house was an onslaught of unpredictable noises, roadworks and people?
The city can be a daunting place for people with disabilities. Smart technologies have always aimed to make everyday tasks easier for everyday people. So the smart city community are turning their attention towards true accessibility for all. We take a look at three exciting initiatives leading the way.
There’s no doubt that driverless cars are pretty cool. But this is for more than just the tech geeks and car fanatics out there. Driverless cars will allow people with limited mobility or vision to be more independent. Instead of needing help from friends or relatives to get about, the technology will mean that they can now travel and get around more easily.
Cars that drive themselves could be really helpful for people with disabilities. The steering wheel, accelerator pedal and clutch are all replaced by a pre-programmed GPS route and some clever know-how from the car.
The sophisticated GPS systems mean that driverless cars can effortlessly navigate to any destination. Then, it’s up to radars and cameras to imitate the human act of looking around the car. These 3D sensors can see in front, behind, on top of and even around corners, making them good at perceiving the world around them in real time. And the final step? A way for the car to turn all of this information into decisions and actions without human input. This is what the geniuses at Google, Apple and Toyota, amongst many, are currently working on.
With these kind of solutions already in the pipeline, the potential of driverless cars to help people with mobility issues is huge.
Bluetooth beacons and smartphones
Smart technology is also revolutionising travel in other ways. For visually impaired people, for instance, beacons are providing clever solutions to mobility issues. Beacons strategically placed along streets cansend Bluetooth signals to a passing smartphone and communicate with it. These beacons can be placed anywhere – like lampposts, traffic lights, buildings and bus stops – and, when the smartphone gets close to the beacon, the beacon tells it valuable information about the street. A headset connected to the smartphone will then transmit all of the beacon’s information to the person wearing it. Clever, huh? Already, Microsoft have been working on bone-conducting headphones, which send sound directly to the user’s inner ear, leaving the outer ear free to listen to outside noise.
Not only does the headset tell you how far to walk to the corner shop, but it will also guide you if you go off the route. If you start to veer off to the left, you will get a clicking sound in your right ear, which lets you know that you need to move back to the right. And Microsoft’s headset goes a step further still – using Bluetooth technology to give restaurant recommendations and scan barcodes in shops. Which means no more mistaking turkey for ham in the supermarket.
With this technology, the location of the grocers, the doctors, the bus stop or the end of the path and start of the road suddenly becomes simpler to navigate. And how does the future look? Well, imagine a world where smart streets will be totally mapped out with beacons, so that people with impaired sight can find their way around with confidence. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Smart homes make for smarter cities
Smart really starts at home. By creating a community of really smart homes, you’re fostering a community open to smart technology – which paves the way for smart cities. And more than that, familiarising people with smart technology in the home will give them greater confidence out in the smart world.
For the hearing impaired, smart technology can provide an extra layer of reassurance. The possibility of not being able to hear a break-in is eliminated, as automated security systems send vibrate alerts to your mobile when a door or window is unexpectedly opened. Plus, smart cameras can stream the feed direct to your device.
For people with mobility issues, trickier tasks are now easily controlled by their mobile phone or tablet. There’s no need to reach for light switches or struggle with the oven, because you can easily switch these on and off and control brightness or temperature, all with a simple app.
Finally, smart technology helps families and friends keep an eye on loved ones. They can receive alerts when events like making dinner or taking medication don’t happen. This can be revolutionary for patients with long term conditions, helping them keep on top of their medication and ultimately resulting in fewer unnecessary trips to the doctor.
In this ever-changing, fast-paced world, it can be hard to keep up. But with smart technology focusing on accessibility above all else, it’s never been easier to take advantage of advances that make life easier.
Find out what we’re doing with smart meters and E.ON Touch to make your home smart.