Sound shower boosts train travel for the visually impaired

Jun 29, 2019

Danny O’Beirne

A STUDENT has devised a simple solution to help the visually impaired to navigate railway stations.

Danny O’Beirne’s research found that many people with visual impairments are put off travelling by train in the UK due to the potential for confusion when they arrive at a station.

“I found there’s often a lack of clear information about platforms, train times, delays and service cancellations which is putting people off using trains altogether,” said Danny, who is in the final year of his Product Design course at the University of Northampton.

“For example, when entering a station, a person might not be able to read the electronic information board, forcing them to rely on information relayed over a tannoy. But this information isn’t repeated frequently enough and could mean somebody waiting around for the right announcement and risking missing their train.”

After speaking to several people with visual impairments and conducting some online research, Danny found some with a visual impairment who rely on special mobile phone apps for rail information find them to be tiresome or annoying. 

Danny’s solution – the Tellway Sound Shower – harnesses ultrasound technology which can project a beam of sound via an overhead speaker. People standing within the beam will be able to hear audio announcements as if there were small speakers next to their ears, while those outside of the beam will hear nothing. The beam can be widened or narrowed, depending on the size of the space.

The speakers themselves are bright green in colour, while bright green standing walls placed in the area are designed to attract the attention of those with visual impairments and guide them to the speakers. His research found braille signs leading to the speakers are unworkable, as not enough people can read braille, while tactile flooring is too expensive to install.

By ensuring sound does not ‘leak’ from the beam, Danny has eliminated noise pollutions – something that can be an issue at some stations.

He said: “They turn speakers off at night at Waterloo Station to ensure those living nearby aren’t disturbed by the noise but that means the visually impaired aren’t able to hear useful information.

“The Tellway Sound Shower means speakers can be operational throughout the night as sound doesn’t escape.”

Danny’s research found ultrasound technology is used by a number of organisations. For example, workers at Jaguar Land Rover’s factory in Coventry are alerted by warning messages when they walk into restricted or unsafe areas on the factory floor.

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