Design team members: Peter Cresswell and Liz Parry

Supervisor: Prof Eric Kubica


The University of Waterloo is a large institute located in southern Ontario that serves its student population, local community and the larger community of North America through educational enrichment, technological and social advancements, and technical and professional skill training. This community is a diverse collection of individuals with a wide range of needs that must be taken into account when considering how the university provides its services.

For those that are visually impaired, University of Waterloo is a much different environment than for those who have vision. How the university delivers services to these students is of concern since it is the goal of the university to meet the needs of all of it community members. A quick survey of how University of Waterloo serves these students reveals a number of shortcomings.

One of the largest obstacles for a visually impaired person is personal navigation. As University of Waterloo is a large campus, the ability to quickly and accurately navigate the campus is important. Without it, attending lectures becomes quite challenging. University of Waterloo has a responsibility to provide enough resources to ensure that the visually impaired can navigate the campus proficiently. However, as the university has a large student population, the services that it provides are quite regimented. For example, it provides service to its students through lectures that begin at a set period of time and terminate at a set time.

At University of Waterloo, the Office for Services for Students with Disabilities serves as the contact point for students seeking assistance with their disability. Currently, to address the need of navigating the campus, the student access van can transport students from one point on campus to another. Accessing some parts of the campus is difficult and using the van is an awkward process for daily transportation. Students can also arrange for rides with a local cab company if the van is unavailable, but this does not assist with on-campus navigation. Beyond the access van, there are signs on campus designed to assist students in navigating the campus. These signs are purely visual and serve little purpose to those that are visually impaired. Thus, University of Waterloo currently has an awkward solution to the problem of assisting those that are visually impaired in navigating the campus.

Beyond the University of Waterloo, there are a number of existing technologies that a person with a visual impairment may acquire. For example, The Columbus Talking Compass by Robotron Pty. Limited is a handheld device that indicates the direction the user is facing through speech. Such a device would be of no assistance to a user without a sense of geographical direction.

The world of handheld navigational tools is a limited and often highly focused one. The development of a scalable and effective handheld device is currently in need. The proposed project attempts to address the navigational needs of the visually impaired in a simple and effective fashion.

Project description

The handheld device to be designed will involve the use of various types of technology such as the Palm OS and the Marcosoft Global Positioning System (GPS) unit. Using these two devices, a shortest path algorithm and a detailed map of the University of Waterloo campus, the device will be able to accept user inputs in the form of button commands or pen strokes and will output directions to the input user destination. Using the GPS as the source of data for current position, the device will also maintain the user on course through corrective feedback signals in the form of audio noise.

Design methodology

The spiral design process will be used as the design methodology for this project. The spiral design begins with building a set of basic requirements followed by the construction of a small prototype, evaluating the prototype and then repeating the process until the final design meets the needs of the users as effectively as possible. The stages of the spiral design are described below.

2.1 Basic requirements
The basic requirements involve collecting a list of needs that users identify and then translating these needs into product requirements. The target user is a visually impaired person and hence most requirements will be generated based on the input of these users. Data will be collected primarily from the visually impaired community at the University of Waterloo with additional data being collected from other non-visually impaired community members.

2.2 Small prototyping
The prototype stage involves developing a prototype that reasonably represents the product being designed. The construction of the prototype becomes progressively more involved. The initial prototype will be a simple construction requiring little technical development, while the final prototype will represent the final product design.

2.3 Prototype testing
The prototype easily serves as a tool for identifying how closely user needs and product requirements are met by the design. Testing will involve using the prototype in a typical application by both visually impaired and non-visually impaired people. The results of testing will motivate further iterations of the design cycle.