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Rio de Janeiro Tests Alert System to Increase Transit Ac...

Rio de Janeiro Tests Alert System to Increase Transit Access for Blind Passengers

For a final project in his electrical engineering class, Douglas Toledo a student from Campinas, designed a bus stop that provides accessibility to people who are blind. It allows them to use public transportation with more autonomy and, at the same time communicate their presence to the bus driver and other people waiting at the stop.

Viibus, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

For a final project in his electrical engineering class, Douglas Toledo a student from Campinas, designed a bus stop that provides accessibility to people who are blind. It allows them to use public transportation with more autonomy and, at the same time communicate their presence to the bus driver and other people waiting at the stop. Called "Viibus," the project was one of the winners of the Cisco Urban Innovation Challenge, and will have its first prototype installed in Porto Maravilha, in Rio de Janeiro.

During his daily bus commute between his school and his house in Itatiba, Douglas would often notice a blind woman waiting for the bus at the same stop. Observing the problems that she faced, such as the difficulty knowing when the vehicle was arriving, if it was the correct vehicle, and difficulties boarding; he realized that there was a need for a smart system that could help those who are visually impaired and use public transport.

The idea was given the name Viibus (standing for "Visually Impaired Intelligent Bus Stop"). To understand the needs of the visually impaired, Douglas spoke with Leonardo Campos and Adair Silva, two members of the Interdisciplinary Center for Awareness of People with Disabilities, which is affiliated with the Pontifícia Catholic University (PUC) of Campinas. He then developed a system that integrated the bus stop, the passenger and the vehicle. The system informs the user that their bus is arriving, while the bus driver is told that a visually impaired passenger is waiting.

Viibus prototype, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This device has so far been tested by Campos and Silva from PUC-Campinas. The system is composed of a panel to be installed in the bus stop for selecting the bus route, which, of course, is in braille. It also contains a wireless communication device that detects when the bus is within a certain radius of the stop. The radius can be adjusted based on the speed limit on the road. Once the bus arrives at the stop, the user receives an audio notification letting them know that they can board.

During the process, other people waiting at the stop are informed of the presence of a blind person by means of a monitor and visual signaling. The reason is to emphasize the importance of personal interaction.

The equipment transmits signals on the same frequency used by cell phones through a similar system that is stored aboard the bus. Douglas intentionally designed a model that does not rely on an internet connection, as this would limit the areas where Viibus could be installed. But he also has not totally abandoned the possibility of connecting the equipment to the internet.

What started as a class project, ended up being one of the five winners of the Cisco Urban Innovation Challenge, which was searching for solutions to be implemented in Porto Maravilha, one of the most important areas of the Olympics project in Rio de Janeiro.

Since the project depends on the manufacturing of equipment to make bus stops more accessible, Douglas is in search of investors to be able to produce and install the technology in other locations beyond Porto Maravilha.

Viibus, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

He intends to wait for the prototype to be installed and then begin contacting other cities, such as Curitiba, Campinas, and Sorocaba. "I want to demonstrate to cities that they should provide incentives for public transportation companies to adopt Viibus. There is no law stating that bus stops should be accessible for the visually impaired, even partially, so I am looking for other solutions that I can offer to cities."

On November 15th, Douglas went to Rio de Janeiro where the installation of the first prototype will begin. It is expected to be operational by the end of March 2016. He will spend the next few months raising funds and studying the number of routes and vehicles that need to be integrated into the prototype. One of the partnerships planned for Viibus is with Livrit, another winner of the Cisco challenge, that maps establishments that meet the needs of people who are blind.

Blindness is the most common disability in Brazil, affecting 18.6% of the population. Read more here on the discussion of making the public transport system more accessible, starting with, for instance, the map of the metro.

How accessible is your city’s transit system for people with disabilities? What accommodations are made to improve transit access for the blind?Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Anna Petrone is a transportation engineering masters student at the University of Maryland, with a Bachelor in Math and Economics. Her interests lie in transportation projects located in developing countries, particularly in South America. She took a...

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