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Study Considers How to “Boost” Your Commute

by B. E. Lewis, RDPFS Intern:

A new trip-planning app, Commute Booster has shown encouraging results related to the use of public transportation by commuters who are blind or have low vision. Aimed at improving navigation inside subway stations, the app has demonstrated success in interpreting signs in some New York City subway stations. A study published in IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine reports that it presents the possibility of easier commutes. Designed by researchers at NYU Tandon School of Engineering and NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Commute Booster routes public-transportation users through the “middle mile,” the part of a trip inside subway stations or other similar transit hubs. It eases this part of the commute in addition to the “first” and “last” miles that bring travelers to and from hubs. “’The ‘middle mile’ often involves negotiating a complex network of underground corridors, ticket booths and subway platforms. It can be treacherous for people who cannot rely on sight,’” said John-Ross Rizzo, MD, who led the research team that includes advisors from New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). Rizzo, an associate professor in NYU Tandon’s Biomedical Engineering department, serves on the faculty of NYU Grossman. “’Most GPS-enabled navigation apps address ‘first’ and ‘last’ miles only, so they fall short of meeting the needs of blind or low-vision commuters,’” Rizzo added. Subway signs are typically image or text based and can be hard to recognize from far away. For those who are visually impaired, such impediments may reduce the ability to be autonomous in unfamiliar environments. Commute Booster figures out in real time what signs a traveler will encounter and uses a smartphone’s camera to recognize and interpret signs, ignoring irrelevant posts. Researchers plan to conduct additional studies among potential users to evaluate Commute Booster further prior to its possible public release. Read more from the NYU Tandon School of Engineering brief here on the New app developed at NYU Tandon (that) promises to make navigating subway stations easier for people with blindness and low vision and a blurb from the National Eye Institute here. The published report on Commute Booster is available here.