BackMap helps people who are visually impaired navigate cities and indoor areas

I’m not sure what it would be like to navigate the streets of New York if I were visually impaired, but I imagine it would not be the most comfortable experience. BackMap, which came out of TechCrunch Disrupt NY’s 2017 hackathon, is a backpack that vibrates to let you know when to turn right and when to turn left.

While walking outside, you could input your location via the app and have your backpack navigate you to the specified place, without needing to take out your phone. BackMap does this using Esri’s PubNub block. Indoors, BackMap could utilize beacons to help people navigate to places like bathrooms and certain stores inside a mall.

“I think that’s a pretty cool feature for people who are visually impaired, because if you walk into a store, you might not know how to navigate to certain places,” Shashank Sharma told me after his team’s presentation.

In general, it can be hard to navigate inside a massive conference like Disrupt, or inside a Westfield mall. So the team also envisions other pedestrians and bikers using the backpack, so they don’t have to take out their phones or use headphones in order to get around.

The backpack, which is equipped with Raspberry Pi-controlled motors in each strap, is most definitely in prototype mode, but I tried it on and it actually works. It only cost the team about $40 to create this haptic feedback system.

Down the road, the team says they envision bringing the functionality to a smart watch or other wearable device.