App to help elderly or disabled cross roads

Gavin Neate demonstrates his app. Picture: Toby Williams

Gavin Neate demonstrates his app. Picture: Toby Williams

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AN innovative phone app which could prove a vital tool in helping elderly or disabled people cross the road is to be trialled in the Capital later this year.

Gavin Neate, who has spent 18 years training guide dogs, created the Neatebox app after finding that blind people or wheelchair users can often find it difficult to manoeuvre around pedestrian crossings.

His invention – thought to be the first of its kind – is made up of a tiny circuit board installed in a crossing box which links with a simple mobile app.

The app, which does not rely on wi-fi or GPS, virtually presses the button and tells people when it is safe to cross.

People with visual impairments will get an audio alert on their phone when the green man lights up.

The concept won the transport, technology and innovation support categories of Edinburgh City Council’s Edinburgh Apps awards last year.

Now Mr Neate, who has been using his personal savings to develop the device, has been given the go-ahead to hold a demo at the bottom of Holyrood Road.

An exact date for the June test has not yet been confirmed, but Mr Neate said he was confident the gadget would be well received.

The 45-year-old, of Roslin, said: “There are some crossings where you can’t stretch to press the button, or physically you can’t get from the pole all the way to the place you need to stand. This is designed for everybody – if it’s somebody that’s got a broken leg, or an elderly person.”

Mr Neate, who has taken a sabbatical from his job at Guide Dogs for the Blind to concentrate on the venture, added: “I’m not a salesman who is in it for making money.

“I want to make sure that whatever I do suits the people who need it.”

At the moment, people can use a “tactile indicator”, a small cone underneath a pedestrian crossing box which rotates when it is safe to cross.

But the boxes are often placed away from the kerb edge, meaning the person may have to stretch from a wheelchair or struggle to get to the kerb in time to cross safely.

Mr Neate, who is receiving business support from Scottish Enterprise and E-Spark Nest, said: “This is the first time that this has been used anywhere in the world.”

Councillor Alasdair Rankin, the city’s finance and resources convener, said: “The Neatebox app is a fantastic idea and I look forward to seeing it developed, benefitting people in Edinburgh and beyond.

“This is a really worthwhile use of new technology.”