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Blessinger leading DSU project to develop innovative information “beacons”

September 7, 2016

Dr. Justin Blessinger, a professor in DSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a $10,000 grant through the South Dakota Community Foundation as part of the Bush Foundation’s Community Innovation Grants program. Dr. Blessinger will work with student Andrew Jorgenson to develop a proximity beacon system and app that will help people with and without disabilities access information about a site as they enter.

The 1990 U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act has resulted in public spaces with greater physical accessibility. However, persons of all abilities often do not have access to relevant, and oftentimes critical, information they need to successfully find their way or stay safe inside a building. Blessinger and Jorgenson will use this grant to design an app paired with proximity beacons that can provide information about a site as you enter. The app is being developed under the prototype name, GoTo.

A proximity beacon is a tiny Bluetooth device that can be hidden in various locations. DSU’s project will place the devices in building entrances on DSU’s campus and at one selected public location in the Madison community. The beacon will broadcast information to the app, making available helpful information for that specific site. The app will use the proximity beacon’s signal to make it simple for anyone who is unfamiliar with a building to easily find office locations, restroom locations, emergency services, historical information, daily calendar information, and so on. 

“The research we are doing not only has the potential to improve accessibility for people with a variety of disabilities (or none at all), it carries on the very long tradition at DSU of utilizing technology to address very human problems,” said Professor Blessinger. “Have you ever been in a new building and needed a restroom? Does your building have a defibrillator . . . and do you know where it is? Does the name of your department confuse visitors as to its purpose? Most of the tech world has been looking at beacons for marketing purposes, for things like handing out coupons as you pass the entrance to their store. But we want to use proximity beacons to make the world more accessible, more equitable, safer, and more humane. We believe GoTo will do just that.”

Blessinger continued, “We’re grateful to The Bush Foundation and South Dakota Community Foundation, for the opportunity to develop this solution, and to the DSU Barrier Free Learning Committee, College of Arts and Sciences, and Center for Excellence for their tremendous support in getting us to this point. We are eager to share our GoTo app with the world!”