Mikhail Zverev: "The world of science and technology counts on Russian ingenuity"

Interview
Mikhail Zverev: "The world of science and technology counts on Russian ingenuity"
Mikhail Zverev: "The world of science and technology counts on Russian ingenuity"
28 January, 12:22
The ideologist and project manager of the TempTop navigation system for people with disabilities spoke about the universal navigation for people with disabilities in Russia and what makes it unique.

Julia Suntsova

Михаил Зверев

The world continues to improve technology to make everyday life easier for people with disabilities. For all civilized countries this is a special "race", where scientists, engineers, developers are ready to fight for achievements not from the principles of commercial competition, but following the ideals of "human community". Everyone's parents are getting old, everyone has a family with disabled people, everyone sympathizes with people with disabilities and is ready to help them as much as possible. But in many countries successful in this parameter, the accessible environment has always been "moved" by specific initiators. Vice-President of the National Association "Accessible Urban Environment" and Co-Chairman of the Council on New Technologies for People with Limited Mobility, ANO "Cluster of Artificial Intelligence" of Novosibirsk State University, Mikhail Zverev spoke about the domestic development of the "TempTop" application.

- Mikhail, for whom is this application being developed?

- First of all, for blind and visually impaired people. Secondly, for people who use a stroller or move with support. We cover all groups with limited mobility - the elderly, pregnant women, parents with strollers, tourists, and in general anyone who may need navigation systems. You find yourself inside a shopping center and you need a specific sports department. You do not want to wander and search for it for a long time, enter or pronounce the name of the department and the application will build the shortest path for you.

When registering in this application, in addition to the basic data, the user is asked to indicate whether he has any health restrictions and which ones, and the system creates the shortest routes, taking into account its characteristics.

- What is the uniqueness of the development, what else has not been invented by Google and other similar applications?

- Firstly, our system should be cheaper to install and operate. But the main advantage is positioning accuracy. All have achieved excellence in movement and orientation in the street space. We fight for indoor accuracy. When a person with disabilities is looking for a specific office in a clinic, a cash desk in a bank, an escalator in a shopping center or an exit from the subway, an error of three to five meters to or fro does not work and is not acceptable. For a disabled person, it means literally hitting a wall or, God forbid, falling off the platform and fatal. We have achieved results when moving in internal spaces with an accuracy of 15-30 centimeters.

Foreign colleagues are also trying to do this, but it is still very expensive.

- What about the geography of the application - who can use the application? Are we only talking about cities?

- We're talking about all of Russia. The system will be able to be available wherever at least something has been done under the federal program "Accessible Environment", since our development is partially based on the infrastructure already created using it. The program was extended until 2025, and I think they will continue to extend it permanently after that, so we will take all cities and towns. All over the world, caring for the disabled and the elderly is becoming a measure of civilization and, positioning themselves as developed, many countries consider it their duty to talk about achievements in this area. And Russia is not going anywhere. Russia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities back in 2012. According to it, all government agencies, buildings, public spaces, shops, shopping centers, restaurants, and so on must be accessible to people with disabilities.

What is the difference from the same "Accessible environment"? Yes, we have more or less dealt with ramps and handrails for the disabled. But in our country it is not only wheelchair users and midfielders who want to be full-fledged members of society. What about people with hearing and vision impairments? So far, tactile pointers on the ground are very, so to speak, fragmentary. And what about the braille plates? It is not enough to hang them up, you also need to be able to read them. In Russia, only 5-10% of the blind and visually impaired can read Braille. And this sign or the button for calling the staff on the building for a blind man, sorry, has to be found. Our system is designed to be versatile in many ways. It can be used by all categories of disabled people in all types of premises and buildings.

- Who develops the domestic system?

- We are developing the TempTop navigation complex together with the Novosibirsk State University. Graduates and scientists of this university are known all over the world both in the field of artificial intelligence and in the field of programming, they have colossal experience in developing various projects. Our samples are based on the fundamental scientific base of the Institute of Mathematics. Sobolev SB RAS, which has an international rating of A +. Programmers, mathematicians, system architects, engineers, and industrial designers also take part in the development of the project.

- The topic of artificial intelligence does not cease and will excite the minds of all mankind for several years in advance. Readers, I think, will be interested to know what kind of artificial intelligence developments do you use in the application?

- Speech recognition and synthesis - these complex tasks have already been solved by artificial intelligence, but we go further and impose a smart dialogue system on them. Our application will be able not only to hear what a person is saying, but also to understand what he really wants.

Imagine, a person enters, for example, a university and asks with a voice the command: "To the accounting department." A voice navigator makes a route and suddenly it turns out that there are several accounting departments in this building. A person may not even know what kind of bookkeeping he needs, and then our dialogue system, not yet bringing the user to the door, asks him questions and clarifies what kind of bookkeeping is required - payroll or contractual? Accordingly, it leads to the desired office. Clarifying questions are asked based on the context of the request. For a person with disabilities, this is a significant help, since the voice navigator immediately cuts off unnecessary movements. In the case of several accounting departments in one building, that is, the application helps, at least, with a clarifying question: "Which one?" and the offer to choose: "To salary or contractual?".

At the first stage of development, we lay down the functions of dialogues with the user about the required service, its location, the position of the desired employee. You can ask the application to be brought to the accountant, accounting department, salary reference, Marina Ivanovna, office 132 - the result will be the same. You get to the right place.

When a social infrastructure object is connected to the TempTop system, its semantic description is formed, and artificial intelligence formulates a request based on the characteristics of a particular room and on the knowledge of where you are and where you need to go.

You may ask, "Where am I?" or say: "I need help!" and get an answer or immediately contact the call center operator, 112 service, premises administrator - depending on the situation. And this is not fantasy. This is the work of our mathematicians. Once in the coverage area of the system, you get a caring, qualified, intelligent assistant. This is tomorrow that we bring closer.

- How does Temptop look in physical terms?

- In the hands of a person with a disability or a person with limited mobility - a smartphone with an application that will be available for free download from the Apple Store and Google Play. Indoors - base stations, located in a certain order and allowing to determine the location of a person. Outside the premises - blocks that work in the same way as base stations: installations above the entrance to the premises, personnel call buttons. At pedestrian crossings, each block will be associated with a traffic light. Basic blocks - in all types of public transport: buses, minibuses, trains, metro.

- You are talking about supplying public and city spaces with the TempTop system. What are the results of discussions of this idea with the government and state departments?

- We know that the state and users are interested in the implementation of such a project, and, of course, we would like the state to take part in financing and order our developments. There are grants for this. But we are also talking about private investment.

Pharmacies, banks, gas stations, supermarkets are also interested to be visited more often, any new categories of customers are never superfluous. We give them to them. A visually impaired person walks past Sberbank's office and does not know about it. But a base station is installed above the entrance to the bank, and the voice assistant in the application announces: “You are passing by Sberbank. It is still open - the operating mode is such and such, turn to the right, go up 6 steps, the entrance is right in the center, the door is facing you "- and everyone is fine. Or at an intersection, the application helps with text or voice: “The green light comes on. An audible alarm sounds. The width of the carriageway is four lanes. In the middle is a safety island. You are crossing Komarova Street. Begin the transition. Finish the transition. Wait.

Vnukovo Airport, a non-governmental company, recently sent a reply - they are interested. They say they would use our application. We conduct scientific and applied work - we develop samples, test them, pay salaries to specialists. State grants and commercial participation of interested structures, investments of investors interested in the development of an accessible urban environment, I think, should be enough to implement our idea.

- Since 2011, Russia has been implementing the state program “Accessible Environment”. Specific tranches are planned for the needs of disabled people, included in the budget for years ahead, a lot of specialists make up terms of reference and estimates. How are you going to convince the officials that these plans may need to be revised in some places, and part of the money should be redistributed or increased funding?

- You see, the question is not worth it - to put a ramp here or not, there are no such disputes. Since 2008, I have been working on Accessible Environment and our team understands the need for certain things. Together with societies for people with disabilities, we constantly record their needs, collect feedback, work out routes together with the blind, deaf, wheelchair users. They say, for example, we cannot do without tactile tiles, sound signals, handrails, and the appearance of these things becomes a necessity, which sooner or later must get into the registers for execution.

On the one hand, the government and contractors want to save money. But in France, for example, this is no longer done. The rights of people with disabilities are above. It turns out that a person in a wheelchair is near a restaurant or government institution, but there is no ramp there. 45 thousand euros fine for the institution without any further ado. And it will come to us - it will be so that a ramp for 1.5 thousand is better than a fine of 45.

We communicate a lot with like-minded foreigners. In France, we observed how a blind girl independently goes to the office with two transfers, enters the office, goes to the workplace, turns on the computer, and calmly carries on correspondence with the world's leading companies. She does not feel slighted at all at any stage of her daily life. We are striving for this - for a full life of disabled people in Russia? And not to ramps, tactile tiles and equipped toilets as such, cut off from the general purpose.

It is clear that our cultural approach to disabled people in Russia is still completely different. Solid guys with money are unsuccessful in our parachute jumps, get into car accidents or fight on light airplanes, become disabled. And only then we have questions - how can a disabled person get out of the house, get to the store, and even how can he move around his own apartment? And then the movements in this direction begin. And money won't solve the problem of affordability if it isn't.

Finns, for example, say that 20 years ago they had the same thing as today in Russia: disabled people do not stick their heads out and do not need to. By the method of typing, by the method of excesses, by education, they equipped themselves. Of course, it is impossible to do everything in one year at the snap of a finger. Our personal task now is just to show - it is possible to make an environment for people with disabilities at a lower cost or the same as in the "Accessible Environment", but more efficiently.

Government agencies are responsible for citizen mobility and urban development policies. However, decision-makers must select service providers who innovate through understanding needs. The services provided are worth it, and the costs will pay off handsomely! There is a tendency to focus too much on the possibilities of new technologies. But technology is useless if it doesn't meet the real needs of people. And, of course, innovation must fit into the economic context in order to grow and live on.

- What help can the app offer for people with disabilities in emergencies or situations when a person becomes ill?

- The current warning systems in premises and public transport are designed in such a way that people with disabilities may not even understand that they need to evacuate. A deaf person cannot hear the audible alarm, a blind person cannot see evacuation icons and light signals.

Our system works in such a way that it dictates or shows a safe route to the exit, taking into account the characteristics of a person with a disability. It leads to the nearest exit or the nearest security zone in a fire-free space, for example. The "Meeting" function allows the second person to accurately establish the coordinates of the disabled person, in which he is at the moment, and with the help of prompts brings him to this place. In transport, how can a blind man find a button to call a driver or stop? How to hear the driver's messages for the hearing impaired? The application informs the user about the location of the vehicle, translates sound messages into text, explains where the buttons, exits, platforms are. The driver, who has installed the TempTop base station, is informed in advance that a disabled person will sit down at the next stop and notify in advance at which stop he will get off.

- Now corporations, but simply self-respecting businesses, are no longer asking questions about the advisability of social responsibility. The amount of social assistance and support for employees and city residents directly form the company's ratings, and investors rely on these ratings when making decisions. You are also looking for investors. In this sense, does your TempTop initiative stake on social responsibility that is fashionable today?

- Of course, we hope for social responsibility and our partners, in cooperation with whom we will implement our system. We ourselves have been paying close attention to non-commercial social areas for many years. In addition to the public association "Accessible Urban Environment", we are engaged in educational and educational activities in societies of people with disabilities: we hold training conferences, participate in the development of codes of practice. The pooling of scientific potential, “brains” from universities and research institutes on our platforms is purely on enthusiasm. These are accomplished scientists who simply want and are ready to solve pressing social problems.

- Have you already tested your app with wheelchair users, support workers, people with hearing and vision impairments?

- We are at the stage of searching for investors. We have a working prototype, but so far our equipment is made on the knee. It takes money for working samples. But we believe in a powerful idea - positioning accuracy down to centimeters in interior spaces, in buildings, rooms, apartment buildings. Nobody in the world really has done this. Our developers operate from scratch. They think, take pauses, want to do better.

- Do you think other countries will want to borrow this development?

- I am in continuous dialogues with disabled people's societies in many countries and in close contact with foreign developers of a similar program from Israel, France, Sweden. Similar developments of different levels of solution to the problem are also found in the United States, in all developed European and Asian countries - in China, Singapore, and Japan.

You see, there is no competition in the sphere of development of the environment for disabled people in its usual sense, it is of a different kind. It’s not apples to sell - who has more ripe, redder, more appetizing. The problem is common. Everyone's parents are getting old, we are getting old, but we all want to move around, work, live a full life to the last, no matter what. We all have friends with disabilities who really want to help. Our application "TempTop" allows all users to be as independent as possible, autonomous in their existence. Countries are ready to cooperate and share their best practices for this reason - in this case, it is the norm of a human community. In this sense, of course, other countries still rely on Russian ingenuity and our scientific potential. Supersonic speed, as they say, will not hurt anyone...

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