S’poreans, please help wheelchair users by collecting accessible route data

SINGAPORE – A data crowdsourcing app has been launched to map accessible routes that will make it easier for wheelchair users to navigate different parts of Singapore.

The SmartBFA app, which officially launched in early March, has so far covered only a fraction of Singapore’s total trails, including areas such as Raffles Place, Bugis and Toa Payoh.

The team of seven behind the app is therefore calling on Singaporeans to download it – available in both the Apple and Android app stores – and start contributing by collecting data on their daily journeys.

Her hope is that in the future, when most of Singapore is mapped with accessible routes and barriers are identified, wheelchair users will be able to get around using the app and also check that buildings, toilets and entrances are accessible. said Mr. Kai Reuber, one of the project managers.

Based on the information gathered so far, the app has some basic routing capabilities, although that’s not the main focus now as the team wants to expand the data pool first, he added.

The Straits Times first reported on SmartBFA in 2018 when it aimed to have a working mapping app by mid-2019.

Back then, a team of like-minded people from the tech industry got together to start the project after realizing that their colleague, who was in a wheelchair, had to make long detours to get around.

However, there were challenges along the way.

The original data collection method was to use fixed sensors on wheelchairs to identify barrier points.

dr Tan Hwee Xian, also one of the project leaders, said this method is slow and results in limited coverage as they also asked people to only collect data on their usual daily routes to minimize the inconvenience.

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To change the approach, Mr Reuber said the team decided to create a data collection app that could be used on a smartphone – something most people have and already has features like a gyroscope, altimeter and a camera features.

Since then, the team has held 32 Wheel the Ground sessions over the past two years, during which they recruited volunteers—both wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users—who each spent several hours combing an area to find obstacles locate and record them via the app. They were divided into pairs, with one person sitting in a wheelchair and the other pushing him.

Obstacles included stairs and curbs that people usually think of, but also ramps that are too steep or paths that are too narrow or uneven.

In addition to wheelchair users, barrier-free access would also be useful for pram drivers, people with walking disabilities or deliverers with trolleys.