Date: 9 November 2017
From: Team Lucent
To: Land Transport Authority
Cc: Brad Blackstone
Subject: Enhancement of Commuting Experience for the Visually Impaired
Dear Land Transport Authority,
I am Claudia Liu, an undergraduate from the Sustainable Infrastructure Engineering program at Singapore Institute of Technology. My team and I were tasked to research and think of possible engineering solutions that tackles some real-life issues people still faces today. Upon that, my group arrived at the perpetual issue of the visually impaired facing difficulties when taking public bus alone.
Attached is our proposal report that consists of a couple of engineering solutions that can be used to resolve the mentioned issue. The proposal report includes information of the current situation that the visually impaired are in when travelling alone by buses services from LTA and our proposed solutions to the problem.
We genuinely thank You for your time and should you need any further information, please let us know. Your consideration of our proposal is greatly appreciated.
Sustainable Infrastructure Engineering (Building Services)
Singapore Institute of Technology
Singapore has implemented many measures to help people with disabilities integrate into the community in the last 13 years (Society for Physically Disabled, 2014) such as incorporating braille in lifts. Despite efforts made, visually impaired commuters travelling alone still face difficulties transiting via public buses.
The two main problems faced by the visually impaired are knowing which buses are arriving at the bus stop and whether the buses that they are on have reached their destination (Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped, 2017). Their predicament was reported by Spykerman (2016), where a visually impaired undergraduate recalled of incidents when the bus captain forgot to inform her that she had reached her destination which caused her to make big detours.
Statistics on visual impairment in Singapore for gauging the extent of the problem is limited. An estimate derived using the study results of Wong et al. (2012) and the data from the Census of Population 2010 (Department of Statistics Singapore, 2011) shows that about 175,000 adults who are above 40 years old are visually impaired. This indicative number excludes children and adults below 40 years old. The number is likely to increase since "more people are at risk of age-related visual impairments as our population ages" (Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, 2017).
The expected rise in the visually impaired percentage warrants attention to ensure they are able to board the right public bus and alight at the right stop every time and all the time when travelling by themselves.
2 Problem Statement
Visually impaired commuters travelling alone often face challenges with boarding the right bus and alighting at their desired stop. Unless technologies such as mobile phone applications and voice-operated system are implemented, travelling alone by bus would still be inconvenient for the visually impaired.
3 Purpose Statement
This report proposes ideas to the Land Transport Authority to enhance the commute experiences of the visually impaired and encourage inclusivity in the design of public transportation system.
4 Proposed Solutions
4.1 "Bus Buddy" Mobile Application
There are a few local application-based initiatives that aimed to help the visually impaired travel more independently on public buses, namely, Travel Assistant for the Visually Impaired and the Elderly (TrAVEl) (Neo, 2015), ICT-Travel (Salim, 2016) and Travel Assistant for the Visually Impaired (TAVI) (Tote Board, 2017). Publications on these initiatives did not include information on how the visually impaired would be assisted when needed, e.g. when alerted on arrival of needed bus, which of the buses that have just arrived at the bus stop should the visually impaired board especially when there is no one else at the bus stop. These initiatives are unlikely to address this aspect since their focus is to enable the visually impaired to travel without help. The proposed "Bus Buddy" solution aims to bridge this gap thereby enabling the visually impaired to board the right bus and alight at the right stop every time.
Figure 1. Challenges with Existing Initiatives
(Retrieved from The Straits Times - link can be placed at the bottom)
The "Bus Buddy" solution consists of two components:98
- "Bus Buddy”, a voice-operated bus service advisory handphone application that interacts with the visually-impaired user and processes his/her requests.
- A transceiver-cum-display system on bus that transmits bus information (e.g. location) and receives alerts notifying the bus captain of visually impaired commuters at the next bus stop.
A simplified conceptual flow of the “Bus buddy” mobile application will be shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Simplified Conceptual Process Flow of the "Bus Buddy" Solution
4.2 Smart Bus Stop
The Urban Redevelopment Authority has piloted a smart bus stop initiative to make waiting more enjoyable for commuters such as connecting to free Wi-Fi or download an e-Book (Saiidi, 2017). The initiative can be expanded to include features to improve the commuting experiences of the visually impaired.
The features of the smart bus stop include a user interactive panel located in the bus shelter (see Appendix B) and a LED display screen installed at the bus stop pole (see Appendix C). The interactive panel incorporates a touch screen LCD display monitor, an audio speaker, real time bus location system as well as bus services information in braille at the lower part of the interactive panel, allowing the visually impaired commuters to find out the bus services available at the bus stop. The LED display will show the bus number selected by the commuter at the bus stop.
The user interactive panel is pre-installed with a journey planner application, allowing the visually impaired commuter to plan his/her travelling journey via the shortest travelling time. When the interactive panel sound off and prompt to input the destination, the visually impaired commuter will press the “push to talk” button below the screen panel and speak into the voice recognition device embedded in the panel his/her end location as shown in figure 3. The journey planner will then automatically display and tell the commuter the shortest travelling route. This makes journey planning a smooth process.
Figure 4. User will press button and speak into the system the end destination
When the system prompt for a confirmation, the visually impaired commuter would then tap the SG Enabled concession card on the card reader to confirm his/her selected choice as shown in figure 4.
Figure 5. User confirm their choice by tapping the concession card on the card reader
Upon confirmation, the audio speaker will announce the selected bus service and the time taken to arrive at the bus stop. Concurrently, the LED display will indicate the flagged down bus number and a visually handicapped symbol as shown in figure 3, informing the bus captain that a visually impaired commuter would be boarding the bus. This allows the bus captain to render necessary assistance.
Figure 6. Bus flag down process
When the flagged down bus arrives at the bus stop, the audio speaker will then announce the bus number, notifying visually impaired to board the bus as shown in figure 6. Once the bus left the bus bay, the LED display will be updated again.
Figure 7. User interactive panel informs the visually impaired commuters to board the bus.
4.3 Comparison of Solutions
The two solutions are compared against common project selection criteria and tabulated in Table 1 below.
Table 1: Comparison of Solutions
“Bus Buddy” Mobile Application
Smart Bus Stop
Ease of Use
· Voice-based application in personal handphone is within reach of the user
· Visually impaired listen to his handphone for his personalised bus arrival message.
· Bus captain can see display on bus dashboard
· Visually impaired listen to all broadcasted messages, including those for other visually impaired, for his bus arrival.
· Bus captains have to notice LED display on bus pole from afar under all lighting conditions
· Able to alert user to alight at chosen end destination
· Alert the user to alight at end destination is not possible
· Development of “Bus Buddy” application and installation of transceiver-cum-display system in bus
· Users have to download apps and learn how to use
· Cheaper to implement
· Installation of touch panels and LED displays
· User just have to learn how to use
· Costly to implement
· Require more Maintenance
Disturbance to Public
· Lesser especially with use of earphones
· Need to be loud enough for visually impaired in the bus stop to hear, this might cause disturbance to residents living nearby
Bus location information
· Unable to show the location of the bus
· Able to provide real time information on the bus location via GPS
4.4 Action Plan
A phased implementation approach starting with a pilot trial is recommended. The trial would produce feedback for refinement of solution before actual implementation thereby maximise user acceptance and minimise failure risk. The trial is proposed to be conducted with services that ply routes that pass Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped and its school to have enough feedback. Implementation is recommended to be progressive starting with routes that have more visually impaired commuters given the investment needed to modify the buses. This approach enables the visually impaired to have a solution that best meet their needs (of boarding the right bus and alighting at the desired stop) with public funds used prudently.
Touchscreen technologies are part of our lives for almost everyone and at everywhere. Solutions to the problem have been thought through carefully by the team and are feasible solutions. There may still be some potential challenges to our solutions, however, with careful planning, these challenges can be mitigated.
5.1 “Bus Buddy” Mobile Application
5.1.1 Personal Medium
The use of mobile application will mean that a smartphone is required. For this to work, the visually impaired commuter will be required to own a smartphone and ensure that the operating system is up to date for the application to run smoothly.
5.1.2 Requiring the Assistance of Bus Captain/ Public Commuters
In the rare event of multiple visually impaired commuters at a single bus stop, bus captain(s) would have to look out for the visually impaired commuters who wish to board his bus.
5.1.3 Installation of transceiver-cum-display unit
Installation of the transceiver-cum-display units in all buses may be could be costly. To overcome this, it is recommended that it is first implemented on bus services that visually impaired commuters would commonly take.
5.2 Smart Bus Stop
5.2.1 Usage of System not Maximised
Bus stop will only sound off when a visually impaired commuter flags down a bus. The system may be implemented at every bus stop, however it may not be the case that a visually impaired person frequents every bus stop in Singapore, there could be a possible case where bus stops will not sound off for weeks, months or even longer. Furthermore, if a system is not frequently used, it would not be known if it still in working condition.
5.2.2 Costly to Implement
It can be foretold that the implementation of this system at every bus stop in Singapore would be costly due various factors such as labour and material.
5.2.3 System Maintenance
Common to all electronics, machines require maintenance and there is also a possibility of the machine breaking down. This would mean that manpower labour and cost would definitely be involved
5.2.4 Single User System
As mentioned previously that it would benefit the general public, there may be instances where multiple users wish to use the smart interactive board, needing to wait. When there is someone using it, other commuters need to wait.
6.1 Online Research
To understand how the visually impaired uses smartphones or touchscreen devices on a daily basis, our team went online and researched on ways the visually impaired operates these devices. From there, we are able to figure out how our solution should be crafted.
6.2 Email Exchange with Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH)
With some knowledge after research and discussion within the team, an email was sent to SAVH to further understand the current situation on how the visually impaired commutes via public buses and the difficulties they face. We have also gotten feedback from the association by presenting our ideas. With this information, we were able optimise our solutions to suit to the needs of the visually impaired.
6.3 Worst Case Scenario
The team came together to discuss on the worst possible scenario that could happen and the possibility of it happening. From the discussion, we were able to further improve our solutions/ minimise the impact in the event of the worst case scenario without jeopardizing the main idea or functionality of our solutions.
Singapore is actively trying to aid the disabled in their lives, the proposed solutions serve to alleviate the prolonged problems the visually impaired face when travelling alone by public bus. The difficulty to perform basic tasks such as taking public bus independently is a major life inconvenience for the visually impaired. As such, it is important to implement methods that can help these group of people.
The proposed solutions in this report involves using voice operated technology on mobile application and on interactive screen. This is because as the visually impaired heavily depend on their sense of hearing to perform their daily tasks, the use of voice operated technology would be the most beneficial and suitable for them.
With the implementation of these solutions, much convenience would be brought to the visually impaired and so, LTA can expect a more satisfied group of commuters.