Mobile Augmented Reality enhances indoor navigation for wheelchair users
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Introduction: Individuals with mobility impairments associated with lower limb disabilities often face enormous challenges to participate in routine activities and to move around various environments. For many, the use of wheelchairs is paramount to provide mobility and social inclusion. Nevertheless, they still face a number of challenges to properly function in our society. Among the many difficulties, one in particular stands out: navigating in complex internal environments (indoors). The main objective of this work is to propose an architecture based on Mobile Augmented Reality to support the development of indoor navigation systems dedicated to wheelchair users, that is also capable of recording CAD drawings of the buildings and dealing with accessibility issues for that population. Methods Overall, five main functional requirements are proposed: the ability to allow for indoor navigation by means of Mobile Augmented Reality techniques; the capacity to register and configure building CAD drawings and the position of fiducial markers, points of interest and obstacles to be avoided by the wheelchair user; the capacity to find the best route for wheelchair indoor navigation, taking stairs and other obstacles into account; allow for the visualization of virtual directional arrows in the smartphone displays; and incorporate touch or voice commands to interact with the application. The architecture is proposed as a combination of four layers: User interface; Control; Service; and Infrastructure. A proof-of-concept application was developed and tests were performed with disable volunteers operating manual and electric wheelchairs. Results The application was implemented in Java for the Android operational system. A local database was used to store the test building CAD drawings and the position of fiducial markers and points of interest. The Android Augmented Reality library was used to implement Augmented Reality and the Blender open source library handled the basis for implementing directional navigation arrows. OpenGL ES provided support for various graphics and mathematical transformations for embedded systems, such as smartphones. Experiments were performed in an academic building with various labs, classrooms and male and female bathrooms. Two disable volunteers using wheelchairs showed no difficulties to interact with the application, either by entering touch or voice commands, and to navigate within the testing environment with the help of the navigational arrows implemented by the augmented reality modules. Conclusion The novel features implemented in the proposed architecture, with special emphasis on the use of Mobile Augmented Reality and the ability to identify the best routes free of potential hazards for wheelchair users, were capable of providing significant benefits for wheelchair indoor navigation when compared to current techniques described in the literature.