San Francisco Airport Beacons Enable the Blind to Navigate Using Their Phones

Recently, a lot of gadgets have been developed with the sole purpose of improving the lives of the blind. The San Francisco airport will surely top that list with its new beacons that help the blind find their way using nothing more than an iOS device.

The goal of all the existing gadgets, including these beacons that will be used in San Francisco’s International Airport, is to diminish the differences between the visually impaired and the rest of us. The airport has collaborated with to create some location-aware Bluetooth beacons that combined with an iOS app can point out nearby points of interest including flight gates, ATMs, information desks and power outlets.

The 500 transmitters that will communicate with the beacons and the app will be installed in one of the newest terminals of SFO, namely Terminal 2. The version of the app that was shown to the press earlier last week works on Apple iOS devices, but SFO promises that an Android version of the system will also be available in the near future. More than that, the app will include features for sighted travelers either in one of its early versions, or at a later point.

As soon as the points of interest are displayed on the screen, Apple’s Voiceover technology comes into play to read out loud the details. The $20 beacons, which aren’t bigger than a bottle cap, communicate via Bluetooth LE with the iOS devices, and run on battery. In other words, the owners will need to recharge them at some point. There’s no word on the battery life of the beacons, but such details will surely be made public once the systems are launched this fall.

SFO and’ project is not the only, nor the first one of this kind. Virgin Atlantic joined forces with Estimote, one of’ competitors, to test beaming information over its part of the terminal in London’s Heathrow airport. It should be noted that Estimote’s version made use of Apple’s iBeacon technology.

All in all, this system for the blind and visually impaired sounds great, but it remains to be seen how the target audience will perceive it once it’s officially launched. That shouldn’t be long from now, as said that the software will be launched in the fall.

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