The public can help wheelchair users by collecting accessible route data for a new app

SINGAPORE – An app has been launched to collect data 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 only collected data on 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 the public to download it – available on both Apple’s and Google’s app stores – and start contributing by collecting data about their daily trips.

The team’s hope is that in the future, when most of Singapore is mapped to show accessible routes and when barriers are identified, wheelchair users will be able to get around using the app and also check if Buildings, toilets and entrances are barrier-free, 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 the SmartBFA project in 2018 when it aimed to have a functional mapping app by mid-2019.

Back then, a team of like-minded people from the technology industry got together to start the project after realizing that a colleague in a wheelchair was having 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.

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

To improve the approach, Mr Reuber said the team decided to develop 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.

The team has held 32 wheel-the-ground sessions over the past two years, during which team members recruit volunteers — both wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users — who each time spend several hours combing an area to locate obstacles and record them via the app. You will be divided into pairs, with one person sitting in a wheelchair and the other pushing it.

Obstacles include 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, people with prams or people with walking disabilities or deliverers with trolleys also benefit from barrier-free access.