Tel-Aviv-based Konnect, a Volkswagen Group Innovation Hub, recently awarded €25,000 to RightHear to develop a proof of concept to help visually impaired persons access autonomous vehicles. RightHear competed with more than 30 other Israeli startups vying for the award. Konnect selected RightHear based on the startup’s micro-location information and navigation guidance technology. Currently, RightHear has installed Bluetooth iBeacons in more than 2,000 public locations, primarily in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. As portrayed in the accompanying video, visually impaired people with the RightHear app on their smartphones or tablets can use the platform for general identification plus specific, nearly step-by-step directions to navigate a RightHear-enabled location.

RightHear’s technology benefits are not limited to visually impaired people. According to RightHear’s website, the company installs talking signage that anyone can access with a free app running on a smartphone or tablet. When users access the app, it pairs the user device with the closest Bluetooth iBeacon. The app then tracks the user’s movement relative to the iBeacon to give directions. RightHear markets its platform to restaurants such as MacDonald’s and other venues. According to RightHear, RightHear-enabled locations expand market share by creating an accessible and inclusive environment for customers and employees. Additional commercial customer benefits include developing corporate social responsibility, accessibility and inclusion policy compliance, improved brand image, and promotional opportunities.

VW’s Konnect partnered with RightHear for this project to explore how the technology can help people, especially visually impaired and blind people, feel comfortable with the use of autonomous vehicles. At this still early stage in autonomous vehicle (A/V) development, if fully-sighted people have concerns about riding in self-driving vehicles with no human driver, imagine how a blind person might feel. VW and RightHear are addressing A/V accessibility issues that will matter to many potential riders, but the chance for life-changing independence and empowerment for the visually impaired and blind community is a huge opportunity. We hope to hear more about RightHear’s proof-of-concept as the project moves forward.