- The city of Philadelphia is seeking ideas on ways it can use augmented reality (AR) technology to make its Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) public transportation system more accessible for people with disabilities.
- The city’s smart city arm, SmartCityPHL, said the "SEPTA for All: Augmenting Transit with Augmented Reality" challenge seeks proposals that deal with any segment of a transit journey, like trip planning or traveling to a destination. Applications are due August 2.
- The open application process will first collect ideas, then a panel of judges will select up to 12 semifinalists to present their ideas at a virtual pitch event. Up to six teams will move to the final round and receive small grants to develop working prototypes of their ideas. Winning teams chosen from those six finalists will receive a total of more than $35,000 in cash prizes and will pilot their idea with SEPTA and the city.
In a blog post explaining the challenge, SmartCityPHL Pitch and Pilot Fellow Joanna Hecht said it is designed to think beyond the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and make use of the emerging AR technology to improve the transit experience for people with disabilities. Hecht said the Pokemon Go game app is one example of AR use, but AR can be useful beyond games and could instead be used to help "access, equity, and cost effectiveness."
Federal and local governments have made some recent notable efforts to improve accessibility in cities, however, many challenges still remain.The All Stations Accessibility Program Act of 2021 would offer $10 billion in federal funding to ensure transit and passenger rail stations are accessible. Chicago piloted a tool in 2018 to help cities evaluate how accessible digital and smart services are for people with disabilities, helping planners track progress. Meanwhile, other cities are evaluating ways sidewalks can be more accessible to those with disabilities.
Disability groups said the challenge is crucial given the role public transportation plays in helping people go about their daily lives. "It's mission-critical that public transit is accessible to riders with disabilities," Darren Bates, president and CEO of Smart Cities Library, which advocates for accessible and inclusive smart cities, said in an email. "Every day, people with disabilities rely on public transit to accomplish daily tasks like getting to work, school, shopping, medical appointments, recreation, and more."
The challenge also invites people with disabilities to share their experiences with navigating public transit through an online survey. Those results will be shared at a kickoff event later this month to help inform ideas. Bates said the community engagement portion of the challenge is crucial, given the disabled rights community's collective motto: "Nothing about us without us."
AR and other emerging technologies can undoubtedly help make public transit more accessible and user-friendly for people with disabilities, according to Bates, as long as those technologies are informed, developed, and co-created with people with disabilities.