Perkins School for the Blind is Awarded Google Impact Challenge Grant

Perkins to develop navigation app for visually impaired travelers with funding from tech giant

Bus sign in the foreground. In the distance, a woman using a white cane walks toward bus stop.

Joann Becker, whose experience inspired the proposal to build a micro-navigation app, navigates towards a bus stop.

April 12, 2016

Watertown, Mass. – Perkins School for the Blind has won a prestigious Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities grant with a proposal to create a micro-navigation solution for millions of commuters and travelers who are blind or have low vision. The $750,000 grant will fund the development of a mobile app to help travelers independently locate bus stops.

“We’re proud that Google.org has recognized Perkins as a leader and innovator in assistive technology,” said Dave Power, president and CEO of Perkins School for the Blind. “This grant will allow us to address a technology gap that keeps many people who are blind from getting to work, exploring their surroundings and contributing to their communities.”

Perkins’ mobile app would pick up where many GPS systems leave off. Most commercially available GPS technology brings users no closer than 30 feet from their target. Perkins anticipates using crowdsourcing to provide detailed navigation clues to bring users to within four to five feet – the standard length of a white cane – of their precise destination.

Bill Oates, Vice President of Perkins Solutions, the accessibility services, products, and training division of Perkins School for the Blind, learned about the very real problem from a colleague who is blind and commutes by bus. “She told us that her GPS says ‘You’ve arrived,’ but leaves her 10 yards away from the bus stop,” said Oates. “That bus may just pass her by.”  

The aim will be to solve that navigation problem and help people with impaired vision travel more independently, not just locally but anywhere in the world. The World Health Organization estimates that about 285 million people around the world have some degree of vision loss.

“Public transit can do more than just move people around. It can help people move forward. Greater accessibility creates more opportunity for people with disabilities to join in that forward movement,” said Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack. “We could not ask for a stronger collaboration than that between Google.org and Perkins School for the Blind to help blind commuters find their bus stops."

“The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities set out to accelerate the use of technology to create meaningful change in the lives of the one billion people in the world with a disability, " said Brigitte Gosselink, Head of the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities. "We’re eager to watch as today’s winners, selected from over 1,000 submissions from around the world, build new solutions that will transform lives and make the world more accessible for all.”

“At Google.org, we support organizations that offer innovative solutions to complex challenges,” Gosselink added. “We’re thrilled to back Perkins School for the Blind as they help build a world that works for everyone.”

For more information visit www.perkins.org/bus