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New app developed at NYU Tandon promises to make navigating subway stations easier for people with blindness and low vision

July 27, 2023
New York subway with moving train.

A new trip-planning app has shown encouraging results in improving navigation inside subway stations, according to a study published in IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine, promising the possibility of easier commutes for people who are blind and low-vision. 

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 journey inside subway stations or other similar transit hubs — in addition to the “first” and “last” miles that bring travelers to and from those hubs. 

Subway signs are typically graphical or text-based, creating challenges for the visually impaired to recognize from distances and reducing their ability to be autonomous in unfamiliar environments. 

Commute Booster automatically figures out what signs a traveler will encounter along the way to a specific subway platform. Then, it uses a smartphone’s camera to recognize and interpret signs posted inside transit hubs, ignoring irrelevant ones and prompting users to follow relevant ones only.

Researchers plan to conduct a human subject study of Commute Booster in the near future. The app could be available for public use in the near term.