Imagine how difficult it would be to navigate a bustling airport terminal as a person with a visual impairment. Navigating security, finding baggage check, and finding the correct gate all while trying to make a last minute flight is daunting for even the most seasoned travelers. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) will soon implement a system to help guide blind and visually impaired travelers from curb to gate. Starting with Terminal 2 this fall, the airport will install some 500 iBeacons for a trial. Current solutions such as GPS do not work well indoors because they are unable to provide precise location information, but beacons allow more precise locationa. When a user with the indoor navigation app walks by a beacon it communicates with the user's smartphone and transmits the location. With the location information sent from the beacon, the app can then guide users to restrooms, restaurants, boarding gates, baggage claims, and even charging stations. Initially the app will only run on iOS devices, but Android devices will likely follow. The system runs off Bluetooth technology which should have minimal impact on battery life. For blind users, points of interest and navigation instructions are read aloud using VoiceOver.
If the trial in Terminal 2 is successful, it is likely that the program will expand to more terminals and more airports. This system, powered by a company called indoo.rs, is a promising development for indoor navigation. In the near future, it is conceivable that similar systems will help people with visual impairments navigate shopping malls, schools, or hospitals. The technology will also benefit sighted users who have trouble finding locations in the vast terminal. If your traveling through SFO Terminal 2 this fall give it a try.