A call for innovative projects to make mobility easier for blind people.
It was in late 2017 that the New York Department of Transport (DOT) launched a call for innovative projects, with the goal of making mobility safer for visually-impaired and blind people. More precisely, to improve safety at pedestrian crossings with a technological solution based on personal devices (smartphones) and geographical data. This was a challenge tailor made for OKEENEA! We were able to put our 25 years of experience in audible pedestrian signals, our profound knowledge of this technology’s uses, and our expertise in digital technology to use, to pitch an innovative solution perfectly aligned with New York City’s specifications. Damien Brosseau, Head of Innovation at OKEENEA, explains: “We designed a connected infrastructure with a dual purpose: to ensure blind people can cross safely, and also to provide geo-localized solutions for all citizens. It is a selective distribution network that provides the right information, at the right time, in the right place! ”
A new generation of audible pedestrian signals
Invented in the 1920s, audible pedestrian signals were massively developed in the United States in the 1970s. The most common system emitted a bird-like sound to inform blind or visually-impaired pedestrians when it was safe to cross the street. However, two main criticisms were levelled against this system: noise pollution for local residents and a lack of information for visually-impaired users.Hence new types of audible pedestrian signals appeared in the 90s, inspired by European and Australian systems on which messages, informing users when to cross, are triggered when a button is pressed on the beacon’s mast. This system does reduce noise pollution but makes life difficult for visually-impaired people, who are tasked with finding the button in the first place!In our response to New York City’s call for projects, we designed a third-generation audible signal that combines features of our tried-and-tested French system and local specificities. Unlike previous versions employed in the United States, our audible signals are triggered via a remote control or a smartphone and deliver personalized information. We also wanted to share our special expertise with New York by incorporating “Smart City” technology, and so our new smart audible beacon, aBeacon, was born!
Why did the New York City’s DOT choose OKEENEA?
A truly innovative audible beacon.Our audible beacon, aBeacon, is part of the Smart City movement and promises to improve the user experience. Each beacon contains a terminal able to communicate with smartphones via Bluetooth. We chose Bluetooth 5 technology to increase the range and data transmission rate. In addition to the possibility of selectively triggering audible pedestrian signals, which is already a welcome development for visually-impaired users, this technology can enrich the environment with contextualized data; in a sense it is like an augmented-reality pedestrian crossing.
A reliable and powerful product
With over 200,000 audible traffic signals installed throughout France, the efficiency and reliability of our products is proven! As part of our quality and industrialization strategy concerning our electronic boards, we guarantee the use of modern components, approved by our R&D and production teams. Owing to our constant efforts to improve our production line, we are proud to report a return rate of less than 0.17% on a total exceeding 43,000 latest-generation electronic cards!
Blind and visually impaired people need to know more than the beacon’s status when they approach the crossing, they need to know where the beacon is located. Therefore, aBeacons’ audible signals can be set to announce the street name and may include additional information to describe the environment, for example, the presence of a two-phase crossing, or a bike, or bus lane, etc. Indeed, this system makes it possible to equip complex crossings with more comprehensive information.
Excellent sound quality
The diffusion of sound is key in environments that are already saturated by noise, such as New York’s main avenues.Irreproachable sound quality and directivity are some of aBeacon’s undeniable advantages, as it enables visually-impaired people to be effectively guided as they cross by creating a sound corridor.
Reduced noise pollution
Thanks to the on-demand activation versus permanent activation, noise pollution is already dramatically reduced, but we have further minimised noise pollution with two features: a volume adjustment function to allow for ambient noise, and an internal clock that makes it possible to set a maximum volume at night.
Crossing the road is the most dangerous part of the mobility chain for people who are blind or visually impaired. In addition to the integrated safety measures for the installation, configuration and maintenance of our audible beacons, we pitched the idea of a system to alert motorists when a visually-impaired person is crossing the road, by means of a flashing light that is automatically triggered when the sound is activated.
A device that adapts to existing pedestrian lights
One of the reasons New York’s DOT chose aBeacon is undoubtedly the fact that it fits on any pedestrian signal. Existing installations need not be replaced; the terminal is simply fixed to the existing signal and the cables connected. The device has also been designed to adapt to all local standards.
En route for smart pedestrian crossings!
Our first aBeacon terminals will soon be delivered to New York to equip a complex intersection. The system will be tested in March 2019 with local associations representing visually-impaired people, but this is only the first phase of the project!Looking to the future, we have entered into a partnership with Connecthings, a leader in urban and smart mobile technology. This company was established in 2007. Its vision is to build communication between the real and digital worlds. Connecthings is now an international reference in the field of Smart Cities and Mobility as a Service (MAAS).By installing aBeacon audible pedestrian lights in New York City, we will be creating a Bluetooth tag mesh that Connecthings can use to develop its contextual information system. In addition to providing blind and visually-impaired people with more information about their environment, this collaboration will provide new connected services for every one!