Hand-held device could assist with mobility problems

A Kingston University professor is developing a hand-held computer that could help disabled and older people to find their way around town and city centres.

Nigel Walford, professor of Applied Geographical Information Systems, said the device would allow people with mobility problems to make their way more easily around an unfamiliar place by alerting them to hazards such as steep slopes, stairs, physical obstructions or poorly lit streets.

After two years in development, Prof Walford said he was ready to produce a prototype that he hoped would attract the interest of industry backers.

Rather than working like a satellite navigation device, which gives directions to and from a specific location, the new tool would provide a survey of a town or city, highlighting areas that might cause difficulties to someone with disabilities, to older people or to anyone who might want to avoid streets that were difficult to navigate.

‘It would provide older people in particular with greater independence by allowing them to widen their horizons and travel to unfamiliar places without having to worry about how easy it is to get around,’ said Prof Walford.

Existing products generally did not take into account what people would encounter along a given route. ‘Someone with a disability would not want to encounter obstacles such as stairs, steps, narrow pavements or street furniture — they need to know what’s round the corner,’ he added.