Pedestrian navigation support for older adults based on landmark information

I was asked to join this project because of my earlier experience with older adults. There were already advanced concepts on how older adults could be helped to be more self-sufficient by helping them easily navigate and explore unknown environments. What was needed was a proof of concept, a working application.

First I had to delve in psychology literature; how do humans navigate in the first place? And how can we support these navigational abilities in an effective way?

Among other things, I found out that one of the ways in which humans navigate is by registering landmarks in immediate neighborhood and remembering them next time they walk past them. In a sense, a route can be represented as a series of landmarks, or notable objects in a particular order. This was an interesting concept so I decided to build a navigation support application based on this principle.

Besides providing a map and a direction arrow, the application supported navigation by displaying a photo of a landmark at the next route waypoint as well as a couple of photo of notable landmarks along that part of the route.

The application was tested with a number of older adults. Some were provided with an interface which provided the photographs of the landmarks, while the other ones only had a map and an arrow. The route was not very difficult or long, so all the people were able to complete it. When they were asked to draw the map of the route they just walked, all people drew things that they saw along the road, but the ones who had the photographs in their application tended to include more landmarks and draw them in more detail.

Once again, I had to use a lot of different skills during this project: 3D modeling, photography, programming for mobile devices, GPS and electronic compass and even a little bit of woodworking (the prototype encasing was made out of wood). While working on this project I was able to use a lot of things I learned before, especially during my MSc thesis, but I also learned quite a lot about how humans navigate. This project allowed me a lot more freedom than I had for the projects during my school years and I really enjoyed that and I was very satisfied with the final prototype and evaluation.

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