The University of Wollongong (UOW) will be the first university campus in Australia to have dedicated directional mapping for wheelchair users, making moving around easier and safer for people with a disability.
Briometrix, a start-up that specialises in technology for wheelchair users, has launched its pilot mapping project in partnership with the Digital Living Lab, an internet of things (IoT) initiative by UOW’s SMART Infrastructure Facility.
Using UOW’s Wollongong campus as a pilot study, Briometrix will translate wheelchair-user-generated data into navigation routes on its Navability App, which will show the best routes for wheelchair users based on their relative ability to propel a wheelchair.
Each time a user logs-on and makes a journey, the collected data will update the app ensure it reflects any changes in the built environment.
This wheelchair community based information will be supplied to the app via the cloud-based CogniCity solution, developed by SMART.
Combining the location-based technology used in Google Maps and exercise monitors with new information specific to a wheelchair experience, the project has the potential to create a new understanding of life on campus and the wider world.
This helps create more accessible and more liveable cities by mobilising those who need the data the most to collect it for the good of all.
“The wheelchairs pilots, they’re essentially acting like Google cars,” Associate Professor Robert Gorkin said. “If you look at a Google map, there’s a car that goes around with cameras to collect data.
“For wheelchair users, there are parameters that cameras just can’t measure, so our pilots have specialized tools to create the maps and profiles for routes depending on their ability.”
The idea to map UOW’s Wollongong campus came about through an encounter between Associate Professor Gorkin and the co-founder of Briometrix, Natalie Verdon, at the Everything IOT (Internet of Things) conference last year.
Verdon, a business consultant and product developer, started investigating ways of tracking fitness for wheelchair users and with Brio developed a compact mountable sensor technology and ability to measure about 40 physical movements made by someone in a wheelchair.
“In our research we discovered that 4 out of 5 wheelchair users had not been anywhere new in the last year. The main reason was the unreliability of accessibility information,” Verdon said.
“Almost everyone had a horror story of travelling accessible routes or venues only to find it was not suitable for their needs. When asked who they would trust they replied someone with the same conditions as me.”
Briometrix will translate wheelchair-user-generated data into navigation routes on its Navability App, which will show the best routes for wheelchair users based on their relative ability to propel a wheelchair.
Briometrix has tackled this issue by developing an accessibility app that takes into account the ability of the user to propel and manoeuvre the wheelchair.
“For me, it’s about normalising the technology for the wheelchair users,” Verdon said. “No-one at the moment is using the wheelchair community to collect the data points to create these maps – these guys make it possible.
“The ideal situation for us would be for everyone in the wheelchair community to download the app and we’ll be downloading all the information and building the maps even faster.”
Once a campus map is made, she hopes to enlist the help of wheelchair users in Wollongong to expand the map to the city.
One of those making it possible is Mark Tomkins, a wheelchair user, town planner and disability consultant, who has already made a number of traditional paper maps detailing wheelchair access.
“Because we can’t use stairs, and we’re sensitive to gradients, we have to be a lot more strategic about how we move around the built environment,” Tomkins said.
“We also have to keep in mind that we all have a different ability and fitness level.”
The maps produced by the app are colour-coded for effort–from Black (steep descent) to Purple (coasting), Green (easy level), Orange (incline) and Red (steep climb, may need assistance).
“What makes this app superior is that we are increasingly going digital,” Tomkins said. “The problem with a paper map is that I first have to find the tourist information office to pick it up. If I have the app, it could be as simple as the navigation devices we use every day.”
For the director of the SMART Infrastructure Facility, Professor Pascal Perez, the partnership with Briometrix exemplifies the nature of the Digital Living Lab.
“Smart cities are not just about smart sensing for better urban management and productivity, they are also about empowering communities and improving liveability,” he said.
“The smart wheelchair accessibility project brings together crowd-sourcing and smart sensing in order for the users themselves, to create, share and update crucial information that will benefit the whole community and help local authorities to better cater for their needs.”
The Navability App is part of the Digital Living Lab, a growing community of projects designed to create smart cities and increase liveability.
About the Digital Living Lab
The Digital Living Lab is a smart city solution working to improve the quality of life for people in the community. It shares data from sensors throughout the region that address key social and environmental challenges, using Sigfox or other networks. See: digitallivinglab.uow.edu.au.
Briometrix is a start-up that specialises in technology for people who use wheelchairs. The company has developments in navigation, health and fitness, sport, clinical and rehabilitation. Briometrix was awarded the start-up of the year in 2017 Data Innovation Awards. See: briometrix.com.