Beacons are small smart devices that can give your phone or tablet a lot more information than they already have about where you are and what’s happening in the environment around you – it’s like giving your phone or tablet an extra sense.
Their most common use, at least so far, is for retailers to give you information when you come close to specific products in their shops – called micro-targetted advertising – but there are a myriad of possibilities for assistive technology uses for beacons too. This article lists some projects using iBeacons to help people who have disabilities or are elderly.
iBeacons For Navigation
Put beacons around a large or unfamiliar space to help vision impaired travellers navigate around the space. There are several projects aimed at achieving this in different places:
- Indoo.rs and LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired are currently testing a system that does this for San Francisco airport.
- UCAN Go: UCAN and Calvium are working to use beacons to help visually impaired people navigate arts-related spaces in Wales.
- ifinity reports they have implemented a beacon-based indoor navigation system in the Warsaw Centre for the Disabled.
Put beacons around a public transport system can also help vision impaired travellers navigate around these movable spaces by dynamically mapping the space. Projects around transport navigation include:
- Wayfindr: London firm ustwo is working on a project with the youth forum from the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB).
- Kraków miastem bez barier is a project in Kraków to use beacons to provide public transport accessibility.
iBeacons as Reminder and Memory Aids
Put a beacon on your medication bottle and be reminded to take your pills the first time you go into that room every day. PillAware is one implementation of this technology.
Poke Me Later is a reminder/notification app that lets you leave a note, voice memo, or photo that will be triggered by proximity to a beacon, either entering or leaving its radius. These could usefully remind elderly or disabled people to do something, or remind people how to do something.
Using iBeacons for Entertainment and Awareness
Door into the Dark uses iBeacons to guide you through an immersive documentary about the psychology of being lost which includes the experiences of people with disabilities, amongst others.
iBeacons For Education
My house is covered in printed signs for my paid helpers; signs that explain how to run the washing machine, how to set the dryer, where the towels go, and so on. Context sensitive learning is something that beacons are excellent about and being able to have my house look like a house, instead of like a workplace covered in signage, is a huge bonus to me personally. This would also mean that I could provide video or other helpful instruction as well or instead of text, which could make things easier for carers.
iBeacons For Automation
Launch Here by Awww Apps puts notifications for launching specific apps or web addresses on your lock screen depending on your location. Put a beacon on the sofa by your TV and you could program your remote control app to show up, put one beside your fridge and your shopping list app shows up. This really only saves a few taps in most cases but for disabled users who find each movement is slow, fatiguing, or painful even a few taps saved can be worth the effort.
Beecon by Beacon Sandwich is similar to Launch Here in many ways, but is also integrated with Philips Hue and LifX lights so it provides an easy way to turn lights on and off simply by sensing your location. It can also control infra-red devices too if provided with an IR bridge.
GeoHopper for iOS and remote-controlled devices such as WeMo switches together let you set up home automation processes to fire remotely when you come close to an iBeacon. One example is to turn lights on when you enter a room, but the possibilities are almost endless.
These are just some of the myriad of possible uses for iBeacons in assistive technology. Beacons are still at the very start of their technology adoption and I hope to add many more projects to this list in the coming months.
The next article in this series on iBeacons for Assistive Technology is concepts for as-yet-unimplemented Beacon uses for accessibility.