mubaloo-mike-crooks-Blind people will soon have more freedom in urban areas thanks to MiBeacons hardware, which was developed by Bristol and London-based enterprise and consumer app developer Mubaloo. Microsoft used the iBeacon technology in its Cities Unlocked project.

The project is an initiative to help those with sight loss to overcome the challenges of navigating in the modern urban environment, using a combination of location and navigation data from GPS and Microsoft Bing apps as well as a network of MiBeacons beacons.

The project was launched and tested in Reading and Paddington Stations.

Unlocking commuting for those with sight loss

Getting around cities is a nerve-wracking experience for people with sight loss. It this demonstration the testers were given an app that provided them with real-time information about where they are, what’s around them, and transport timetables, and a Windows Phones which uses jaw-bone conducting technology to pass that information to them in as non-intrusive a way as possible.

They then were asked to walk a bus stop, catch a bus to Reading rail station, navigate the station, catch a train to Paddington and navigate the from the train to the barrier. It also involved a personalised retail experience at a supermarket.

The technology seamlessly provides verbal and non-verbal information regarding orientation, navigation and points of interest using a 3D-SoundScape, while the phone features an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass and GPS chip that tracks the user’s position.


15019739054_5751a459c0_b-700x466Cities Unlocked: Mubaloo’s technology in use


MiBeacons Development Director, Mike Crooks said “By focusing on how devices connect with the physical world around us, Microsoft has shown the need to think about how people access real world places.”

Just the beginning

The launch this month was only phase one of the project and it’s hoped that the technology could be opened up in the future to allow more people more access to urban areas.

“Technology should be an enabler for people, rather than being used for strictly commercial advantages”


“Technology should be an enabler for people, rather than being used for strictly commercial advantages. Beacons are a key technology for helping to connect the physical world with our digital devices. Seeing beacons being used to help people feel empowered is truly inspirational,” Crooks explained.

The beacons themselves are BLE (Low Energy Bluetooth) transmitters, a network of which across urban areas would offer advantages over GPS, which doesn’t reach everywhere, and Wi-Fi, which requires a connection. Beacons across a city would allow objects to provide their awareness to mobile devices. This means that if someone needs to get on a train or bus, beacons can be used to let them know it’s the right one to get on.


Cities Unlocked is a project Microsoft started in association with the government’s Future Cities Catapult and Guide Dogs. It has also received support from a number of Group Partners and advocates including Lord Chris Holmes, Barclays Bank, First Great Western, MiBeacons/Mubaloo, Network Rail, Reading Borough Council, Reading Buses and Tesco. Research partners include: Arup, CASA UCL, Helen Hamlyn Centre, University of Nottingham, IMPETUS Transport Systems Catapult University Partnership and Superflux Studio.

Want to know more about Cities Unlocked? Visit the Cities Unlocked or the Future Cities Catapult websites.  And don’t forget the tech; you can find out more at the Mubaloo websiteMiBeacons website or in our Mubaloo Profile. They were also nominated for the SPARKies 2014 Best App award and founder of Mubaloo Mark Mason won the SPARKies 2014 Best Mentor award. You can follow them on twitter @Mubaloo and @futurecitiescat. And while you are there, why not follow us? @TechSPARKuk