Design of public transport assistance system for visually-impaired users received distinction at national competition

System design broken down into particular components (credit: R. Stępień)

Prototype operation - visual overiew

Rafała Stepień (second on the right)

photos from archive of the organizers of competiton „Teraz Polska Promocja i Rozwój”

MSc. Rafał Stępień – graduate of the Faculty of Metals Engineering and Industrial Computer Science received a distinction at the competiton promoting Polish economy and development „Teraz Polska Promocja i Rozwój” for his Master thesis on The use of wireless technologies for assisting blind persons in the urban environment. The event attracted the best Master dissertations investigating issues related to Poland’s competitiveness.

The laureate received the award during the official awarding ceremony which was held on 6 December at SGH Warsaw School of Economics.

The aim of the project completed under the supervision of dr inż. Andrzej Opaliński was to design, create and test the prototype of an innovative system based on wireless technology to be used for assisting blind and partially sighted persons in getting around metropolitan areas.

 The idea for a Master thesis that would have a real impact on the lives of other people dates back to the day when I defended my undergraduate project. I believe that the IT sector can offer innumerable facilities and solutions for the world around us. I have been particularly interested in the community of blind people – many of whom I encountered when using public transport. Looking for inspiration I asked a blind person I happened to meet on a tram about some daily hardships that modern technology could alleviate or solve – said MSc. Rafał Stępień.

After finding out that one of the toughest challenges is the unassisted use of public transport the author focused his efforts on addressing the problem of recognizing approaching buses by visually impaired persons and marking information-bearing points. For the purpose of identifying a particular point together with a vehicle, the author used small signal broadcasting devices characterised by very low energy consumption (capable of continuously broadcasting signal for as long as a few years using only one small watch-sized battery) supported by Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol, which is available in many phones, tablets and IoT devices. Commonly referred to as a beacon, the device can broadcast signals over an area of up to 70 metres. In order to receive the signal the user must be equipped with a mobile phone which will interpret the signal by reading the beacon’s ID and the distance from the user, after which the system will advise the user on a particular reading – e.g. information on the approaching vehicle.

By linking a social need with some IT tools the author developed the original idea and so a prototype was created. The system consists of a network of beacons, a vibrating armband, Android-based application and control panel for the beacons. The inventor succeessfully persuaded a group of programmers and marketing specialists to help him develop the project – without their contribution he would not have been able to prepare the test set-up and implement the project. The system was tested during a pilot study conducted between June and November 2017 on 5 buses operating Kraków’s route no. 124.

The AGH UST graduate is continuing his work on the project. Together with a group of young and ambitious technology enthusiasts he is currnetly investigating technology-based solutions for blind and visually impaired persons. Referring to technology, our graduate said:
 Modern technologies have become an integral part of human life. Their applications can be found in almost all areas of everyday activity – entertainment, work and communication. Thanks to the latest and most innovative tools, the social world, understood in its broadest sense, is getting more intricately connected with the global ecosystem of the Internet, creating opportunities which, only several years ago, could be found nowhere else but in science-fiction stories.  

MSc. Rafał Stępień studied Applied Computer Science at the Faculty of Metals Engineering and Industrial Computer Science. As a student, he was the president of a student society which specialised in robotics and computer science. His scientific interests cover, among other things, distributed IoT systems and their applications for various social needs. He is a great enthusiast of meet-ups and hackathons, which enable him to maintain close contacts with Kraków community of IT professionals. Mr Stępień has got several years’ experience of programming, he has taken part in a number of scientific conferences, also as a guest speaker. He is currently an educator for a new generation of programmers.

The „Teraz Polska Promocja” competition was established in 2007 under the auspices of the Ministry of Economy, based on the initiative of Fundacja Polskiego Godła Promocyjnego „Teraz Polska”, Polish Agency of Information and Foreign Investment SA and Warsaw University. First editions of the competition were focused exclusively on promoting Poland’s economy abroad. Over the years, the scope of theses accepted for the contest was broadened to include problems of competitiveness and innovations of Poland’s economy.

This year saw 11th edition of the Competition. It attracted over 70 students from all over Poland, with 14 laureates receiving awards and distinctions. The authors of all winning theses received approximately PLN 50 000 worth of prizes. Selected fragments of the winning theses will be published in an e-book entitled after the competition: „Teraz Polska Promocja i Rozwój”.