skip to main content

Title: NavCog3 in the Wild: Large-scale Blind Indoor Navigation Assistant with Semantic Features
NavCog3 is a smartphone turn-by-turn navigation assistant system we developed specifically designed to enable independent navigation for people with visual impairments. Using off-the-shelf Bluetooth beacons installed in the surrounding environment and a commodity smartphone carried by the user, NavCog3 achieves unparalleled localization accuracy in real-world large-scale scenarios. By leveraging its accurate localization capabilities, NavCog3 guides the user through the environment and signals the presence of semantic features and points of interest in the vicinity (e.g., doorways, shops).To assess the capability of NavCog3 to promote independent mobility of individuals with visual impairments, we deployed and evaluated the system in two challenging real-world scenarios. The first scenario demonstrated the scalability of the system, which was permanently installed in a five-story shopping mall spanning three buildings and a public underground area. During the study, 10 participants traversed three fixed routes, and 43 participants traversed free-choice routes across the environment. The second scenario validated the system’s usability in the wild in a hotel complex temporarily equipped with NavCog3 during a conference for individuals with visual impairments. In the hotel, almost 14.2h of system usage data were collected from 37 unique users who performed 280 travels across the environment, for a total of 30,200m  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
ACM Transactions Accessible Computing
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Navigation assistive technologies have been designed to support individuals with visual impairments during independent mobility by providing sensory augmentation and contextual awareness of their surroundings. Such information is habitually provided through predefned audio-haptic interaction paradigms. However, individual capabilities, preferences and behavior of people with visual impairments are heterogeneous, and may change due to experience, context and necessity. Therefore, the circumstances and modalities for providing navigation assistance need to be personalized to different users, and through time for each user. We conduct a study with 13 blind participants to explore how the desirability of messages provided during assisted navigation varies based on users' navigation preferences and expertise. The participants are guided through two different routes, one without prior knowledge and one previously studied and traversed. The guidance is provided through turn-by-turn instructions, enriched with contextual information about the environment. During navigation and follow-up interviews, we uncover that participants have diversifed needs for navigation instructions based on their abilities and preferences. Our study motivates the design of future navigation systems capable of verbosity level personalization in order to keep the users engaged in the current situational context while minimizing distractions. 
    more » « less
  2. Museums are gradually becoming more accessible to blind people, who have shown interest in visiting museums and in appreciating visual art. Yet, their ability to visit museums is still dependent on the assistance they get from their family and friends or from the museum personnel. Based on this observation and on prior research, we developed a solution to support an independent, interactive museum experience that uses the continuous tracking of the user’s location and orientation to enable a seamless interaction between Navigation and Art Appreciation. Accurate localization and context-awareness allow for turn-by-turn guidance (Navigation Mode), as well as detailed audio content when facing an artwork within close proximity (Art Appreciation Mode). In order to evaluate our system, we installed it at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and conducted a user study where nine blind participants followed routes of interest while learning about the artworks. We found that all participants were able to follow the intended path, immediately grasped how to switch between Navigation and Art Appreciation modes, and valued listening to the audio content in front of each artwork. Also, they showed high satisfaction and an increased motivation to visit museums more often 
    more » « less
  3. People with visual impairments often have to rely on the assistance of sighted guides in airports, which prevents them from having an independent travel experience. In order to learn about their perspectives on current airport accessibility, we conducted two focus groups that discussed their needs and experiences in-depth, as well as the potential role of assistive technologies. We found that independent navigation is a main challenge and severely impacts their overall experience. As a result, we equipped an airport with a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon-based navigation system and performed a real-world study where users navigated routes relevant for their travel experience. We found that despite the challenging environment participants were able to complete their itinerary independently, presenting none to few navigation errors and reasonable timings. This study presents the first systematic evaluation posing BLE technology as a strong approach to increase the independence of visually impaired people in airports. 
    more » « less
  4. Indoor localization technologies can enhance quality of life for blind people by enabling them to independently explore and navigate indoor environments. Researchers typically evaluate their systems in terms of localization accuracy and user behavior along planned routes. We propose two measures of path-following behavior: deviation from optimal route and trajectory variability. Through regression analysis of real-world trajectories from blind users, we identify relationships between a) these measures and b) elements of the environment, route characteristics, localization error, and instructional cues that users receive. Our results provide insights into path-following behavior for turn-by-turn indoor navigation and have implications for the design of future interactions. Moreover, our findings highlight the importance of reporting these environmental factors and route properties in similar studies. We present automated and scalable methods for their calculation and to encourage their reporting for better interpretation and comparison of results across future studies 
    more » « less
  5. We introduce a novel vision-and-language navigation (VLN) task of learning to provide real-time guidance to a blind follower situated in complex dynamic navigation scenarios. Towards exploring real-time information needs and fundamental challenges in our novel modeling task, we first collect a multi-modal real-world benchmark with in-situ Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructional guidance. Subsequently, we leverage the real-world study to inform the design of a larger-scale simulation benchmark, thus enabling comprehensive analysis of limitations in current VLN models. Motivated by how sighted O&M guides seamlessly and safely support the awareness of individuals with visual impairments when collaborating on navigation tasks, we present ASSISTER, an imitation-learned agent that can embody such effective guidance. The proposed assistive VLN agent is conditioned on navigational goals and commands for generating instructional sentences that are coherent with the surrounding visual scene, while also carefully accounting for the immediate assistive navigation task. Altogether, our introduced evaluation and training framework takes a step towards scalable development of the next generation of seamless, human-like assistive agents. 
    more » « less