PROTOTYPE WRISTBAND FOR VISUALLY IMPARED PASSENGERS
Run by the Transport Systems Catapult on behalf of the Department for Transport, the ‘All Aboard’ competition invited students aged 14-18 to come up with innovative solutions to make buses more accessible for people with visual or hearing impairments.
The winning entry, called ViBus, involves Bluetooth-enabled wristbands which vibrate when a passenger approaches his or her stop. The Mobile Onboard LABS team were awarded the tender to develop the winning wristband concept into a fully functional, proof-of-concept prototype that could be tested with visually impaired volunteers.
The solution required the LABS team to create three key systems that needed to be integrated for ViBus to work, the wristband, the driver application and the Vibus hub that would communicate with both the wristband and the driver application using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS.
Using a compact programmable Bluetooth module, haptic (vibrating) motor and a haptic motor controller we had small enough electronics that could be worn on a wrist. We then designed and manufactured a silicon wristband that could house the electronics. It was important that the wristband was quick and easy to put on, was splash resistant and could withstand any damage when dropped. The vibration needed to be easily felt when worn and this was achieved through a combination of a suitable housing for the haptic motor in the wristband and setting the level of vibration through the haptic motor controller.
The Driver Application
When a passenger puts on a wristband it needs to be programmed with the passenger’s destination bus stop, this would be done by the bus driver using the Driver Application. Built to run on a low-cost tablet it was mounted by the bus ticket machine. Using a clear and simple UI it was designed to make programming the wristband quick and easy for the bus driver. The Driver Application communicated with the ViBus hub via Wi-Fi, then the ViBus hub communicated with the wristband via Bluetooth to program it.
The ViBus Hub
Integrated within our Beam bw130 bus Wi-Fi system, the ViBus hub uses the bw130’s Wi-Fi capabilities to communicate with the Driver Application. It has its own Bluetooth controller module for communication with the wristband and a GPS module for real-time location data. The ViBus hub facilitates communication between the Driver Application and the wristband while its GPS module enables it to trigger the vibrating alerts in the wristband at the right point prior to a passenger’s destination bus stop.
The final prototype ViBus wristbands were trialed on a live bus environment with visually impaired volunteers. The trial was designed to test the viability and accuracy of the ViBus prototype on a bus route with test scenarios of visually impaired passengers getting on and off the route at various points. They would have to rely wholly on the wristbands alerting them when to get off.
The consensus on the ViBus system from both the trial bus driver and the volunteer passengers was positive despite the accuracy of the alerts proving inconsistent at different stages of the route. After some adjustments to the GPS algorithm and the ViBus hub’s Bluetooth controller firmware we were able to achieve a 98% accuracy on a second trial.