Mini Grant Winner: Tactile Tiles

This blog post has been prepared by Nancy Chiu, winner of the MakerSpace Mini grant for the month of April, 2019.
Nancy is a first year graduate student pursuing IDM.

As a part of Design for America NYU chapter, our team was task to improve navigation experiences for the visually impaired people in New York City. We kicked off the project with background research, empathy exercise, interviews with experts in the field, and interviews with visually impaired people. As a part of empathy exercise, we blind-folded each other to experience what it’s like to navigate both outdoor and indoor situations. We understood that this exercise was nothing like what visually impaired people experience everyday but it gave us a sense of how vulnerable one can feel without sights.

We also partner up with Visions, a non-profit organization that works with communities and assists visually impaired people to live independently, to conduct user interviews to gain some insights on their everyday experience with navigation and to learn about their pain points.

After the research phase, we synthesized our findings and pinpointed our problem statements:

  1. How might we improve navigation experience for the visually impaired people to interact with sighted people?
  2. How might we interact with sighted people to improve navigation experience for the visually impaired people?

We set some design constraints to help us brainstorm: outdoor, tactile, sustainable, safe, involve the whole community, also keep budget/money in mind.

We took some time to come up with potential solutions with the problem statements and design constraints in mind. It turns out that a lot of our solutions don’t exactly fit all the design constraints but are still interesting to pursue. All these solutions can be categorized into 3 groups: tactile paving system, smart cane, and audio implementation.
After the brainstorming phase the team designed to create prototypes for both the tactile paving system and smart cane ideas because we’d like bring options to Visions and conduct usability testing to see which route has a more positive feedback.

Tactile Paving System & Braille:

After some back and forth discussion, we decided to create a system, using existing tile patterns, to guides the visually impaired people at the corner of the streets to the street pole where braille plates with street names on them will be located. We are hoping that through this system, it will make it easier for the visually impaired people to know where they are if they lose track of counting the streets and also remind them that there’s a corner coming up.

Smart Cane: For the smart cane approach, we want to design a sensor system that can be placed on any white canes that communicates with Google Maps.

Since we found out that a lot of the visually impaired people uses Siri and Google Maps as a part of their navigation experience, we thought this will be an interesting add on to their existing routine.

Here’s how we envision it to work: once you place the sensors, one of the left of the cane and one of the right, once you enter your location in Google Maps via Siri and navigation starts, both sensors will vibrate to indicate the start of navigation.

Whenever Google Maps asks you to turn right, the right sensor will vibrate to indicate turning right, and the left sensor will vibrate for turning left. Once the trip is completed, both sensor will vibrate again to indicate the end of trip.

Next Steps:
We have refined the prototypes and our next steps will be usability testing. Some of the things that we are unsure of and need feedback on are:

  1. How far away does the “go straight” tiles has to be to indicate there’s a corner coming up?
    Or is it even necessary? Will it be too confusing?
  2. How do visually impaired people feel about the one new tile we design connecting the two straight tiles?
  3. Is the additional indication tile clear enough?
  4. How wide does the tiles have to be? Do they feel it with their canes or feet?
  5. Is the vibration on the cane confusing?
  6. Any general feedback on both prototypes

We are in contact with Visions to set up some usability testing and interview sessions and we will be iterating on our prototype ideas as we receive feedback.