One potential problem is that anyone can alter these maps and post incorrect information, and OpenStreetMap relies on other contributors and volunteers to capture and correct inaccuracies. Other applications that use crowdsourced information, such as MapInHood, may struggle with the same issue.
These apps make enormous promises, but some are wary. Roland L., a cane tour instructor at the Center for the Blind in Louisiana, has downloaded some of it, but he doesn’t believe he will ever completely replace his cane. He’s just wary of relying on phone technology, which is expensive, can come with obstacles, and can leave someone trapped if his battery dies.
“My personal belief is that technology is something you use if you can’t do it independently before,” he said.
However, he said that as long as the apps are affordable and provide something they can’t already do with a cane or a guide dog, he is in full support of developing these new technologies. He also added that they should be compatible with other tools used by blind people. This means they should be relatively hands-free and deliver information efficiently.
In addition to being useful for the blind and visually impaired, Greg Stilson, head of global innovation at the American Printing House for the Blind, said he believes there will eventually be successful apps that offer additional benefits in addition to accessibility – helping hospitals keep track. Warehouses support equipment or tracking products, for example – and require very little additional infrastructure (signage, Bluetooth connectivity, and the like) to set up.
As technology is getting better or guiding people through obstacles and routes, Mr. Stilson said such applications could eventually give way to some type of autonomous pedestrian navigation tool, like a self-driving car, but for sidewalks.
“It’s probably the next big border,, He said. “Maybe it’s not mapping a specific space, but maybe it’s helping the blind person navigate in real time.”