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SFO trials beacon-based navigation system to help blind visitors explore terminal

Visually-impaired visitors to one of San Francisco airport’s newest terminals could soon be able to find their way around using a new beacon-based system currently undergoing testing at the airport.

The technology, which could eventually be modified for all travelers if the trials prove successful, connects a smartphone app with a network of 500 beacons placed at various points of interest around the terminal building.

Supplied by indoor positioning and navigation firm Indoo.rs, the beacons work with the app to offer curb-to-gate navigation to users. The system also alerts users to keys areas inside the terminal, including restrooms, ATMs, VIP lounges, information points, and baggage claim. Alerts are vocalized using Apple’s VoiceOver technology, which can also be used to pull up directions to specific locations in the vicinity.

Indoo.rs CEO Hannes Stiebitzhofer told The Verge the beacons are about the size of a bottle cap and cost around $20 to produce, while the battery that emits a beacon’s signal, via Bluetooth, should last for up to four years.

Beacon-based technology is steadily growing in popularity, with an increasing number of companies and organizations experimenting with the system to provide more information, special offers, or ads to people visiting places like stores and sports grounds.

Indoo.rs hopes to have its system in place for visitors to San Francisco airport in the next few months. Although it’s currently only set up for iOS devices, the company said it hopes to have an Android version ready before too long.