SFO Testing Beacon System for Blind Travelers

Josh Lowensohn, writing for The Verge:

San Francisco Airport is testing out location-aware beacons to help visually-impaired people navigate around one of its newest terminals, a program it could roll out to the rest of the airport if successful. An early version of the system was shown off to press today for use on Apple iOS devices, though SFO also plans to make it available for Android users and eventually expand the system to serve up information for those who can see. The beacons are coming from an indoor positioning company Indoo.rs and have been installed throughout the terminal. Each beacon will connect to a smartphone app to pop up with information when a user gets within range. For the visually impaired, the system uses Apple's Voiceover technology to read out points of interest as they come on screen, though an early version of the app also gives people visual cues for how to navigate to locations from a directory that can be sorted. That means you could tell it to help you find the nearest power outlet to juice your gear, or the nearest coffee shops to recharge your body. Each beacon, which is about the size of a bottle cap, costs about $20 and runs off battery power to push out signals using Bluetooth low energy. Indoo.rs CEO Hannes Stiebitzhofer says the beacons will last for four years before the batteries need to be replaced, and that the company installed about 300 of them around the terminal. Looking around, you can hardly see them since they're above eye level and many match the color of what they've been adhered to. This is very cool, and similar in scope to my idea for iBeacons in Apple Stores.