Modern pilgrims boost satellite navigation for all

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20 January 2011

Satellite navigation technologies can and should be usable by everyone, according to a presentation on the ‘the Satellites’ Way’ project in Brussels on the European Day of People With Disabilities on December 3.

The project – coordinated by organisations from Galicia in Spanish – involved a team of 12 including people with disabilities, partially sighted or reduced mobility undertaking the historic pilgrimage from Roncesvalles in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. In all, the core team covered over 739km in 32 days during October and November this year and were joined by 300 people at different stages.

One of the ‘pilgrims’ was project organiser Enrique Varela from the Foundation for Social Technologies (FTS), who is visually impaired.  His organisation’s goal is to boost the development of ‘social technologies’ and the organisation assists companies in designing technologies that consider the needs of all people. “There has been fast development of technologies in the last half decade or so, but it has traditionally been very difficult for some people to use them, especially those with disabilities or the elderly,” he said.

“We want to show how intelligent technologies applied responsibly can help everyone to do things easier and bring a better quality of life for all,” added Varela.

The overall aims of the project are twofold, continued Varela. “We want to test the applications out and see what is useful, but we also want to raise awareness of these issues.”

Enrique Varela from the Foundation for Social Technologies (FTS) with cyclist Miguel Indurain (left), and singer Serafín Zubiri (right) who took part in the Satellites’ Way project © FTSEnrique Varela from the Foundation for Social Technologies (FTS) with cyclist Miguel Indurain (left), and singer Serafín Zubiri (right) who took part in the Satellites’ Way project © FTS


Among the systems used by the team was a satellite navigation console without a screen. “It’s a small device that is able to talk to you and gives an audio feed that describes the route,” continued Varela. “[The user] gives voice instructions and the device can tell you where you are.”

Other technologies were specially adapted applications for smart phones. “These are very easy to use, especially for old people and blind people,” he said.

“The use of these satellite navigation based applications helped to ensure we were able to complete the route in a better way, offering greater independence to people who would otherwise have difficulties,” he added.

The pilgrims were able to find out information about the sites they were visiting, as well as add their own comments and guides. The experience was further enriched through the use of social media platforms to share the information even further.

Another application helped to ensure the safety of the group as all members were tracked through their mobile phones so their position was known at all times.

The team was accompanied by a mobile exhibition bus that highlighted the technologies and project to the general public in each town and city that the team stopped in. Further attention was raised as well-known figures who also took part in the walk, including Miguel Indurain (cyclist), Purificación Santamarta (athlete) and Serafín Zubiri (musician and sportsman).

Other project partners included the Galician association of information and communication technology companies (Agestic). José Maria Lôpez Bourio, the chairman of Agestic said: “We want to show how satellite navigation technologies can lead to a better quality of life for everyone and can make cities more accessible.”


And this year’s pilgrimage is just the beginning, as the team is planning for it to become an annual event. “Next year we hope to extend the scope to different places in Europe,” said Varela. “We want to get other associations involved and follow other routes.”

He added that some of the technologies they were looking into incorporating would be embedding guidance systems into clothes and shoes, along with solar and ICT systems. “We want to enable more information on the route in future to ensure everyone can enjoy a better cultural and touristic experience.”

Other efforts

FTS has been involved in the EU-funded Pernasvip project, which is developing a GNSS-based mobility service for visually impaired pedestrians.

he system uses the capabilities of EGNOS to improve day-to-day autonomy through a portable guiding handset accurate and reliable enough to be used in the urban environment.

Another EU-funded effort in this area, the Inclusion project, was also on show at the European Day of People with Disabilities. The project is exploring how satellite navigation can help physically disabled people through a guided wheelchair that can move autonomously and automatically avoid obstacles.

Visitors were able to see for themselves a prototype terminal developed under the project which integrates GNSS and Wifi sytems onto a motorised wheelchair.

The project coordinators highlighted how previous research efforts to develop positioning applications for disabled people using stand-alone GPS had been limited by the lack of accuracy and reliability – factors that can now be overcome with the adoption of the EU’s innovative GNSS systems such as EGNOS, EDAS and Galileo.

Both systems were demonstrated at the Galileo Applications Day in March 2010.

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Updated: Sep 03, 2014