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27/08/2018
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Partnership creates community accessibility maps for wheelchair users

Volunteers use wheelchairs equipped with sensors to find most accessible routes in Wollongong CBD

So here’s a question. What’s the quickest way from Wollongong railway station to WIN stadium if you want to go and watch the footy?

And does that way include steps or steep inclines? Because if it does, that may make it impossible for you – because you’re in a wheelchair.

The city of Wollongong is about to become a much more welcoming place for wheelchair users with the creation of a map created by a small team of volunteer wheelchair pilots.

Jason Jones, Ashley James, Mark Tomkins have been travelling the streets of Wollongong for several days, starting August 25, equipped with sensors to gather information for an accessibility map of the area.

The project follows a pilot study that has mapped the University of Wollongong (UOW) campus and is a partnership between the University’s SMART Infrastructure Facility, Wollongong City Council and Briometrix.

The pilot project is funded with a $35,000 grant from FundAbility from Northcott, a not-for-profit disability service provider.

Project leader Associate Professor Robert Gorkin said the project was an excellent example of how the community is enhanced by emerging technology like the Internet of Things.

“The wheelchair pilots will be essentially working like Google cars,” he said. “If you look at a Google map, there’s a car that goes around with cameras to collect data.

“Where other accessibility maps rely on topographical data, Briometrix technology evaluates the routes metre by metre, considering gradients, surface, camber, barriers and the effort required by wheelchair users – everything that affects the difficulty of a route for a wheelchair user.”

Natalie Verdon, co-founder of Briometrix, said the map would focus on areas of interest in the CBD – around the hospital and the train station; the Blue Mile around Belmore Basin and Puckey’s Estate; and the central shopping area. The project will also look at the Wollongong Heritage Trail that celebrates more than 20 historic sites in the eastern part of the city from Church St to Harbour St.

“We are trying to look at the major transport areas, the entertainment areas and the tourist areas,” Ms Verdon said.

“This will help us understand which routes are most travelled by people in wheelchairs, and it will help wheelchair users choose the best route, depending on their fitness.”

Briometrix is working with councils in Sydney and Shepparton, Victoria, to make similar maps.

This project is part of a portfolio of initiatives supported by the SMART Digital Living Lab that promotes community-driven use of smart technologies.

Dr Maryam Gharamani, from SMART DLL, will work with Prof Robert Gorkin to help deliver the crowd-sourced accessibility maps to the community. In the next few months, the maps will be made available for free online through the UOW-supported dashboard Vision Illawarra.

Briometrix will integrate the results into their expanding maps across Australia through their Navability app.

The project will also demonstrate how the wheelchair user community can not only develop technology-enabled solutions for themselves but also deliver broader public benefits: a chair will be equipped with a LoRaWAN tracker that will provide precious information about the quality of the LoRaWAN transmission across the city.

WHAT IS THE DIGITAL LIVING LAB

The Digital Living Lab is a smart city solution working to improve the quality of life for people in the community. It shares data from sensors throughout the region that address key social and environmental challenges, using Low-Power Wide-Area Network or other networks. See http://digitallivinglab.uow.edu.au/

WHAT IS THE SMART INFRASTRUCTURE FACILITY

Established in 2011 by the University of Wollongong. SMART brings together experts from fields such as transport, water, energy, economics and modelling and simulation and provides a state-of-the-art facility to support this important research. An international leader in applied infrastructure research, SMART is helping to address the challenges of infrastructure planning and management both now and into the future.

WHAT IS BRIOMETRIX

Briometrix is an Australia company who specialise in technology for people who use wheelchairs. The company has developments in navigation, recreation, health and fitness, sport, clinical and rehabilitation. Fitness Apps, Wearable Devices and Accessibility Maps for the wheelchair community. See www.briometrix.com

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