The European Blind Union held in November its 2020 edition dedicated to “Acoustic Systems for Information and Navigation”. On this occasion, the EBU invited our CEO Sylvain Denoncin to share Okeenea’s 25 years of experience in the field of accessible pedestrian signals (APS). He revealed in his presentation the advantages of our latest generation APS aBeacon that was installed in New York City last year. A presentation that aroused enthusiastic reactions among representatives of the associations making up the audience!

Okeenea’s CEO Sylvain Denoncin

Hello Sylvain. Can you summarize your presentation for those who did not have the chance to attend the European Blind Union Conference?

Almost everywhere in the world, accessible pedestrian signals are activated by pushbuttons mounted on the pedestrian signal pole. These devices already represent the second generation of APS. Unlike the first generation of APS which beeped permanently, the pushbuttons limit noise pollution because it allows on demand activation. But a problem remains: how do people who cannot see, or have very low vision, find the pushbutton? The matter becomes all the more unsafe in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, when touching should be avoided.

The system developed by Okeenea more than 25 years ago and standardized in France in 2002 is based on activation by radio remote control, which already represents a major advance. But technologies are evolving. Bluetooth allows us to consider new uses and expand existing functionalities. This is the huge wager we made when we responded to New York City’s call for innovation.

The aBeacon APS set up on a signal pole at a crossing in New York City

Our aBeacon APS, intended for the international market, responds to two activation modes: a Bluetooth remote control and the MyMoveo application on smartphones. End users can then choose according to their preference for one or the other of these means. In all cases, Bluetooth activation provides the advantage that it is possible to trigger only the audible signals of a single crossing, depending on the user’s route, and not the entire intersection, as it is the case with the radio remote control. On the other hand, the audible signals of a same crossing communicate with each other in order to create a sound corridor that guides the user from one end to the other. Integrating the technology in an independent box to be mounted on the pedestrian signal pole also guarantees excellent sound quality. The first results of user tests conducted by New York University on our Manhattan installation show that users quickly learned how to use the system and appreciated the quality of the information provided. But taking advantage of innovative technologies does not only benefit end users, e.g. people who are blind or have low vision. Making the APS communicate also significantly facilitates maintenance.

The aBeacon APS therefore represents a breakthrough from what visually impaired people know in most parts of the world. How did webinar attendees react to your presentation?

The freedom of choice that we offer by proposing several triggering tools – Bluetooth remote control and smartphone application – was very well received. Expectations and uses are different from one person to another, even if they share the same disability. The use of the pushbutton remains very established and appreciated, especially when it includes additional tactile information. Perhaps the greatest strength of our aBeacon audible pedestrian signal is its ability to interface with any pushbutton system. We don’t ask users to change their habits acquired over decades, but we offer them advanced, complementary uses, making the most of current technologies.

And if we look at the entire travel chain, harmonizing the triggering mode of all acoustic systems dedicated to visually impaired people appears to be a necessity. It is of course possible to keep pushbuttons on pedestrian signal poles. It becomes much more difficult to install a pushbutton at the entrance to every store or at every public transport station.

The European Blind Union is fully aware of this issue and wishes to launch cooperative work to harmonize the activation system for acoustic information and navigation devices. At this point, Bluetooth seems to be a good choice. This is an ambitious project to improve the mobility of visually impaired people beyond the borders that we entirely support!

 

About the European Blind Union and its 2020 webinars:

The European Blind Union is a non-governmental, non-profit-making European organization founded in 1984. EBU aims to protect and promote the interests of all blind and visually impaired people in Europe. It brings together 41 member countries, each represented by a national delegation.

The 2020 webinars dedicated to “Acoustic Systems for Information and Navigation” are aimed at members of the European Blind Union, professionals in the fields of accessibility and road safety, as well as to anyone interested in the subject. They include expert presentations, panel discussions, and feedback. The webinars were created to replace the 2020 conference, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first webinar took place on November 10, with the participation of around 50 people from 23 countries. The following were held on November 18 and 27.

Would you like more information about our “augmented APS” aBeacon? Please contact us!