WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) - A team of Wichita State University researchers is in the early stages of developing digital maps to help accessibility indoors, where GPS or satellite systems often don’t work.

In December, the National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator Track awarded a Wichita State-led team a $750,000 grant to gather information and create digital maps of indoor spaces that could be used by persons with disabilities.

A person using a wheelchair often doesn’t know the accessible route,” said Vinod Namboodiri, professor and associate director for research engagement in the College of Engineering. “It leads to lesser participation by people with disabilities in employment or maybe other aspects of life. What we’re trying to do is improve quality of life, improve employment opportunities out of this, hopefully which leads to broader societal gains.”

The creation of maps (MABLE – Mapping for Accessibility in Built Environments) through crowdsourcing, experiences, observations and robots will help persons with disabilities assess, plan and navigate indoor environments with audio and visual information. Envisioned users include those with visual or mobility impairments (blind, low vision, wheelchair users, cane users, etc.).

The project, Namboodiri said, can appeal to a wider population by helping anyone entering an unfamiliar building, such as freshmen on the first day of class.

“Maps allow you to study a space, weighing your comfort as in, ‘Do I even want to go to that building?” Namboodiri said. “You want to live independently and learn things.”

The NSF selected 16 multidisciplinary teams with projects that enhance opportunities for persons with disabilities. Namboodiri is proud that the Wichita State-led project is in a group with projects from schools such as Stanford, Cornell, Northwestern and Harvard.

“It’s a very prestigious award and very selective,” Namboodiri said. “We got it because of our history. They felt we could make contributions. We made a good case from the middle of the country that we can do stuff, too.”