June 22, 2012 at 4:50 PM ET
Researchers in Barcelona have created an app that may prove useful to riders of public transit who are blind, deaf or otherwise disabled. OnTheBus hooks into GPS and transit data and alerts the user where and when they need to board, signal and disembark.
While transit systems make some allowances for riders who may be unable to see or hear when the bus arrives, or they themselves have arrived at their stop, there are doubtless many riders who could use some additional help.
After checking a few routes with the user, the app will direct them to the nearest bus stop and inform them when their bus should be arriving. Once on, it will tell them how many stops they will be riding for, and tells them when to activate the "stop" cord or button. And once they've returned to the pavement, it continues guiding them to their destination with walking directions.
Users don't have to type, either: The app will accept voice input or writing with symbols, and a separate interface was designed for people with severe visual impairment or total blindness. You can watch a demonstration of the app below; it's in Spanish, but the functionality is easy to understand:
It only works with buses for now, as the GPS signal would be blocked in subway systems. But the researchers are looking to expand into other transit styles, and are even considering adding augmented reality features to help people locate stops — for instance, after determining the user's position and orientation, the phone's camera could display the bus stop through the landscape and give turn-by-turn directions.
The OnTheBus database currently supports buses in Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome, in several languages. The makers hope to expand it to other cities and languages, though beyond the next few their plans are not being stated. The app is available now for Android.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.