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Smart Suitcase Guides the Blind Through Airports

The suitcase tracks other pedestrians in the user’s path and sounds an alarm if a collision is five seconds away.

The BBeep rolling suitcase features a camera and alarm to warn users and passerby of impending collisions. 

Running through an airport probably isn’t anyone’s idea of a particularly good time, but for the visually impaired, the air travel experience can be an especially daunting one. 

Navigating swarms of people through expansive corridors and dozens of nearly identical gates likely couldn’t be done without at least some assistance from airport personnel. 

Teams from Carnegie Mellon University, however, recently undertook a couple of projects designed to help those individuals move through airports with the same level of independence they would have elsewhere.  

And both recently underwent successful tests at nearby Pittsburgh International Airport. 

One project resulted in an existing smartphone app being tailored specifically to airports, including to account for their expansive hallways and moving walkways.  

The NavCog app provides turn-by-turn audio directions to users through the Bluetooth navigation beacons already installed in many airports. 

The other study, conducted with researchers from two Japanese universities, created an rolling suitcase known as BBeep. 

The suitcase includes a camera that tracks other pedestrians in the user’s path, and an alarm that begins sounding if a collision is detected five seconds away. 

At 2.5 seconds, the alarm sounds more quickly, and when the clash is imminent, a “stop” alarm blares. 

One user, during the test phase, noted that although most people will happily clear a path for a visually impaired person, many are distracted in the airport by departure updates, fellow travelers or their own smartphones. 

Carnegie Mellon’s robotics researchers are showcasing their findings this week at a computing expo in Scotland.

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