New computerised system will enable wheelchair users to easily navigate town centres

A computerised navigation system has been developed to enable wheelchair users to select the most accessible routes around a town centre. It means a journey can be planned that avoids obstacles like cobbled streets, steep areas and steps.

The work has been carried out by a team led by Professor Hugh Matthews, at University College Northampton, with funding from the Swindon based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The ‘Wheelyroute’ system, believed to be the first of its kind in the world, will also allow urban planners to look at a town centre from the perspective of wheelchair users and to identify those areas that present access problems.

The prototype ‘Wheelyroute’ system is based on Northampton’s town centre but the researchers have ensured that the techniques used for assembling the necessary information are widely transferable. They believe that such navigation aids could be compiled relatively simply for any urban centre.

“Ideally, in the future we would like to see the system available on hand-held navigation devices,” says Professor Matthews. “At the moment it exists as a CD-ROM, and we have received funding to put it on a web server, enabling wheelchair users to access it over the internet.” The system is also being made available in town centre locations in Northampton, such as the local library.

“We wanted to create a navigational device which would inform people in wheelchairs about the best routes to take through a town centre, particularly if they were first time visitors,” says Professor Matthews. “It was important that the system could be updated and was flexible, unlike a traditional map.”

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