Foursquare’s venue data is being used to power all sorts of apps. Some are useful, some not so useful. One developer has found a way to put it to work in one of the most useful ways possible: helping blind people understand the places around them. And judging by their reactions to the beta, it’s a home run.
BlindSquare is an iOS app that combines foursquare venue data, Open Street Maps and text to speech from Acapela in order to help blind people find what’s around them. As they walk around their cities, it speaks the names of places and cross streets that are nearby to help them get their bearings, including distance and direction information for each one.
One beta tester commented in the app’s forum:
I just took BlindSquare out for the first time. I love hearing the nearby places, [it's] like traveling with a sighted person.
Users can choose their search radius and narrow the data down to specific categories. They can also exclude entire categories — offices or homes, maybe — from the results completely. Venues can also be searched for by name or select from a list of private places they’ve added.
Once a user has a chosen a target venue, BlindSquare helps guide them there by providing direction and distance guidance. Once they’ve arrived at their destination, simply shaking the device checks them in on foursquare (if they desire).
The app is designed to run on an iPad or iPhone placed in a backpack or pocket while the user listens to the results via headphones (or, even better, bone conduction headphones). It’s compatible, of course, with Apple’s VoiceOver technology and the iControlPad, a bluetooth control pad for iOS devices that serves as a remote control.
BlindSquare has been built over the past six months by Finnish developer Ilkka Pirttimaa. A team of blind beta testers has been helping him refine it for the last few months.
It’s great to see foursquare’s data used in such an innovative way to help the blind better understand the world around them. It gets me excited for the other possibilities the data could enable.
The app is available for $11.99 in the iTunes app store. If you think BlindSquare is a fit for your situation, give it a try and let us know what you think in the comments.