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pathVu - Accessible Pedestrian Navigation [5/29, edited Homer's Journey, user journey, user feedback, Prototype, partners, OpenIDEO quest]

pathVu is building a tool that navigates pedestrians along the most accessible and walkable routes to increase safe and independent travel.

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Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

We started pathVu with a focus on helping people with disabilities. My brother and our co-founder both use wheelchairs. We believe that designing for accessibility is universal design, and helps all pedestrians. Our navigation tool will allow older adults to travel more independently, confidently, and safely along sidewalks. It will tell them the most walkable routes to travel, the location of potential tripping hazards, and even places to sit. It encourages people to be active through walking.


Pedestrians face significant health risks when traversing a pathway that has not been maintained or was poorly designed.  One in three older adults (>65 years) experiences a fall each year, many of which occur outdoors.  The result costs the U.S. $30 billion in direct medical costs annually.  Falls are the most common reason for traumatic brain injuries among adults and children.  Among wheelchair users, tips and falls are the most common source of injury and they occur most frequently when the wheelchair user is traversing outdoor terrains that are not flat.  Additionally, wheelchair users are subjected to unhealthy levels of vibration exposure due to rough pathways, and are twice as likely to suffer from back and neck pain.  Wheelchair users cite the environment as a significant barrier to their social participation, second only behind problems with their wheelchairs. These adverse pathway conditions (APCs) translate into reduced social participation.

Another challenge that pedestrians face is the uncertainty of the path that is ahead of them.  Is there a sidewalk?  Are there curb ramps?  Are there clearly marked crosswalks?  How accessible/walkable is the path?  Common pedestrian navigation tools, such as Google Maps, Apple, or Bing, use the roadway to navigate pedestrians rather than the sidewalk.  At times, a person could be directed down a road that has no sidewalks.  Furthermore, they do not know about the quality of the path.


pathVu’s pedestrian navigation tool solves this problem.  pathVu provides the user with the most accessible route that contains sidewalks, crosswalks, curb ramps, and limits tripping hazards.  This route is tailored to the user’s specific needs and settings.  If a user wants to travel a route that has a curb ramp at each intersection, the route will include curb ramps.  By selecting the route that limits tripping hazards, older adults will be less susceptible to dangerous conditions that could cause them to fall.  This will also help older adults to become more active in the community to live healthier lives by increased walking.  Similarly, this applies to wheelchair users and all other pedestrians.  A prototype of the pathVu navigation tool has been developed.  The initial launch will be available for all computer and smartphone users via a website.  Future versions will be included in the pathVu mobile app.  This version will alert pedestrians by vibration and sound as they approach a hazard.

The data used for routing can also be used to prioritize improvements to the sidewalk infrastructure.  Pedestrians can use pathVu’s data and navigation tools to advocate to their local government for improved sidewalks.  One of pathVu’s goals is to work with cities and municipalities to manage their sidewalks and get the problems fixed.  Through the use of this data, we can help eliminate the original problem…tripping hazards and dangerous sidewalks.

Data collection tools

PathMeT: PathMeT is a manually propelled stroller-like device that pathVu uses to collect high resolution, highly accurate data about sidewalks and pathways.  Data includes: tripping hazards, running slope, cross slope, roughness, location, and images.

pathVu App: The pathVu app is a free crowdsourcing tool that allows pedestrians to report sidewalk conditions, such as tripping hazards, curb ramp locations, construction, etc.  The pathVu app is free for Android and iPhone smartphones.  It will allow us to scale our routing functionality quickly to different cities.


CLICK HERE for an interactive map of sample data.


Our prototype (see image under Solution above) is a navigation tool that takes into account sidewalk, crosswalk, curb ramp, and tripping hazard location.  It routes a pedestrian along the sidewalk/crosswalk paths and around potentially hazardous conditions.  This prototype is based on the user feedback that knowing sidewalk location and conditions is a valuable tool in navigating sidewalks safely.  The green line in the image provides the suggested route.  Additional features will be added in the future.  Paper maps can easily be created for non-internet users.

The prototype has not yet been published for public use.


pathVu was part of The Crossings project to promote safe intersection crossings, hosted by Aging Your Way and Lively Pittsburgh.

pathVu and Lively Pittsburgh conducting a "walkability study" in the East Liberty neighborhood through use of the pathVu app.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

An early test of our pedestrian routing would initially include a focus group of older adults, wheelchair users, and other people with disabilities. After the focus group, we would have the participants go into the community to use the app. We would have them travel different routes using three different methods: 1) No navigation tool 2) Existing navigation tool (i.e. Google Maps) 3) pathVu. This test will allow us to gain important insight to the usability of the tool and receive user feedback.

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

The most important resource to gain is a network of connections, interested stakeholders, and potential users. pathVu believes in designing a product that revolves around the users' desires and needs. This means talking to potential users, receiving input and feedback, and designing based on their comments. In addition, IDEO's experience in UX/UI design will be invaluable in developing a product that older adults can use easily and will want to use.

How long has your idea existed?

  • Over 1 year

This idea emerged from

  • A student collaboration

Tell us about your work experience:

I have a Bachelor's degree in Physics and Mathematics and a Master's in Rehabilitation Science and Technology. I became an entrepreneur three years ago and was part of an accelerator in Pittsburgh. Our team has experience in mechanical engineering, design, and working with people with disabilities.

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone?

1 in 3 older adults fall each year, the majority occurring outdoors. pathVu is developing the "Google Maps for pedestrians" to prevent falls and improve accessibility. Typical pedestrian navigation, like Google Maps, use the roadway to direct pedestrians, sometimes down a road without sidewalks. pathVu's navigation uses the sidewalk/pathway location and quality to inform you of the safest routes.

How does your idea demonstrate our Criteria of Affordability?

pathVu focuses on developing tools that are accessible for all, including older adults and people with disabilities. pathVu navigation will be available for free to all pedestrians, which will be accessible via a web app for internet users. A mobile app will be developed later for those who use smartphones. pathVu understands that some people do not use the internet or smartphones, and so we will develop paper maps and partner with local organizations (port authority) to make those available.

How does your idea demonstrate or plan to demonstrate scalability?

pathVu's goal is to implement our pedestrian navigation worldwide. pathVu will start by conducting a pilot project in Pittsburgh with the support of local organizations who have shown interest. Upon successful completion of this pilot, we will begin scaling to other walkable cities because of their expected acceptance of our tools. pathVu expects to grow through the support of community groups collecting data with our app, which was designed for the purpose of scalability.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

pathVu plans to measure impact in part by the number of recurring users. One of the most powerful ways to know if someone likes your product is whether they use it. We will also measure impact by the feedback that we receive from our users, especially in our pilot project where we will be working closely with older adults and people with disabilities. Finally, impact will be measured by the number of cities using our tool, showing that we are helping more and more people.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

The next steps after this challenge are: 1) Finalize development of pathVu navigation tool 2) Collect appropriate data for pilot project 3) Conduct a pilot in Pittsburgh. pathVu has a prototype of its navigation tool, but further development is required prior to public use. With the help of our local partners, we will collect all of the appropriate data necessary first. Lastly, we will recruit older adults and people with disabilities to be advisors for our Pittsburgh pilot.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Alex

This is actually a great idea. But the major drawbacks with these kinds of inventions is that these can only be implemented in places where the basic development has been done properly. In other places, these things won’t work properly.

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