Chris Yates Case Study

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Cities Unlocked has been the focus of Chris Yates’ life for the last eight months. Even from an early age he has always been fascinated by technology but is ‘incredibly excited’ by the potential of Cities Unlocked.

“This is the way to go,” he says. “It is what users have been telling us is needed, they don’t want bespoke devices, they want to use the same devices as everyone else.”

Chris has been working for Guide Dogs for more than 13 years as a Mobility Instructor in Reading. This year, he is the Customer Experience Lead for Cities Unlocked.

“I feel this is a huge opportunity,” Chris explains. “The collaboration between Guide Dogs, Microsoft and Future Cities Catapult can achieve so much. We need to offer technology as part of our training and journey towards independence. We live in a technological age which is now mature enough to allow us to achieve things we couldn’t do just three years ago. We appreciate that the newer generation of guide dog users have been brought up with technology and it’s become a part of their everyday lives.

There is a long way to go, Chris acknowledges, but he sees the likely impact of Cities Unlocked as being equivalent to the impact a guide dog has on their owner. Current technology will never replace guide dogs or canes but it is one of the biggest advances that can be achieved.

As a Mobility Instructor, Chris sees Cities Unlocked as incredibly powerful. “So far, we’ve only used the system on a single corridor route involving a few short walks and public transport, but I can already see how much it empowers and enriches the user’s journey. It becomes an enjoyable experience rather than a daunting prospect.

“As the Customer Experience Lead, I’ve travelled that route with users both using and not using the prototype technology. The difference it made was remarkable. One of the biggest challenges for people with sight loss when travelling on buses is knowing when they are approaching their stop. On one trip using technology, the participant was preparing to get off the bus before I even realised our stop was coming up. It was moments such as these that allowed me to fully appreciate just how powerful the technology we’ve been working on could be.”

And Chris is happy to be involved with a company like Microsoft. “I understand that Microsoft need to see a commercial value in this project and I’m delighted with that because it allows us to meet our own objectives. If other organisations such as retailers and transport networks understand the commercial appeal they will roll out the tech themselves. Not only will it help to capture their own audience but will also allow for cities to become much more accessible, it’s a win-win. The interest we have seen from the partners we’ve been working with is incredible and is a key factor when considering the success of the project going forward”

“We’ve come a really long way in the last 12 months, this is still prototype technology but anything that’s worth doing and can significantly change lives takes time. All I would say is ‘watch this space’, it could easily turn out to be a game-changer and allow those with sight loss to become truly independent.”


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