Crossing a street isn’t risk-free for any pedestrian, but it’s especially challenging for the blind or visually impaired. Locating the crosswalk, determining when it is safe to cross, and maintaining alignment are often difficult tasks.
The prototype Mobile Accessible Pedestrian Signal (MAPS) system uses GPS and other technologies to help people with limited or no eyesight cross signalized intersections safely.
Chen-Fu Liao, senior systems engineer at the Minnesota Traffic Observatory, led the research team that developed the MAPS system with funding from the ITS Institute.
The MAPS prototype goes above and beyond existing crosswalk aids—which use audio warnings to guide visually impaired pedestrians—by placing the assistive technology directly in the hand of the user via a smartphone application. The app is easy to use, inexpensive, and more flexible than traditional infrastructure-based systems.
With MAPS, a user can point a smartphone in the direction he or she wants to cross and call up information about the intersection and the signal phase by tapping the unit’s touchscreen once. Tapping twice confirms the desired crossing direction and sends a request for a crossing signal to the traffic signal controller. The user gets feedback from the text-to-speech interface.
The prototype has been field-tested at intersections in Minneapolis and Golden Valley, Minnesota. Work continues to refine the accuracy, resolution, and usability of the MAPS system.
In addition, the researchers will soon begin a new project funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Building on previous work, this project aims to enhance the system to help the visually impaired travel safely around work zones.