At this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt NY hackathon, one team presented BackMap, a haptic feedback system which helps visually impaired people to navigate cities and venues. It is assisted by a Raspberry Pi and integrated into a backpack.
Good vibrations with BackMap
The team, including Shashank Sharma, wrote an iOS phone app in Swift, Apple’s open-source programming language. To convert between addresses and geolocations, they used the Esri APIs offered by PubNub. So far, so standard. However, they then configured their BackMap setup so that the user can input their destination via the app, and then follow the route without having to look at a screen or listen to directions. Instead, vibrating motors have been integrated into the straps of a backpack and hooked up to a Raspberry Pi. Whenever the user needs to turn left or right, the Pi makes the respective motor vibrate.
BackMap can also be adapted for indoor navigation by receiving signals from beacons. This could be used to direct users to toilet facilities or exhibition booths at conferences. The team hopes to upgrade the BackMap device to use a wristband format in the future.
Here at Pi Towers, we are always glad to see Pi builds for people with disabilities: we’ve seen Sanskriti and Aman’s Braille teacher Mudra, the audio e-reader Valdema by Finnish non-profit Kolibre, and Myrijam and Paul’s award-winning, eye-movement-controlled wheelchair, to name but a few.
Our mission is to bring the power of coding and digital making to everyone, and we are lucky to be part of a diverse community of makers and educators who have often worked proactively to make events and resources accessible to as many people as possible. There is, for example, the autism- and Tourette’s syndrome-friendly South London Raspberry Jam, organised by Femi Owolade-Coombes and his mum Grace. The Raspberry VI website is a portal to all things Pi for visually impaired and blind people. Deaf digital makers may find Jim Roberts’ video tutorials, which are signed in ASL, useful. And anyone can contribute subtitles in any language to our YouTube channel.
If you create or use accessible tutorials, or run a Jam, Code Club, or CoderDojo that is designed to be friendly to people who are neuroatypical or have a disability, let us know how to find your resource or event in the comments!