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IN THE LOOP: Madrid's taxi fleet revolutionised with hearing accessible technology


Image credit: Contacta and Aimas

Madrid's taxi industry has undergone a transformative change after approximately 3,000 taxis have been equipped with advanced hearing loops.


This major installation program stems from a legislative mandate in 2020, requiring all new taxis in Madrid to be fitted with a loop system. Spearheading this project is the Sociedad Cooperativa Madrileña del Autotaxi (SCAT), the city's industry association, collaborating with Contacta Systems, a Kent-based firm with a rich history in vehicle loop systems. Contacta Systems first made its mark by introducing hearing loops in London's black cabs in the 1990s.

The technical execution of this initiative was left in the hands of Aimas Technologies, the regional partners responsible for the actual installations. The hearing loop system converts sound from a microphone positioned above the driver's head into a magnetic signal. This signal, transmitted through a loop of copper wire discreetly integrated within the vehicle's ceiling and driven by a compact amplifier, is converted back to sound by the T-coil in a person's hearing aid.


This technology offers clear communication between drivers and passengers, effectively eliminating background noise and prioritising the driver's voice over any road or radio interference. The system offers user-friendliness, requiring no additional apps or equipment for passengers.

The journey to this point has been a meticulous one, involving over a year of development by Contacta's team and Aimas' engineers. This involved extensive testing of various amplifiers, microphones, and wiring configurations to tackle the unique challenges of electromagnetic interference and background noise in vehicles, ensuring compliance with the stringent industry standards for hearing loops.


Madrid's taxi drivers are now mandated to purchase pre-packed hearing loop kits for their vehicles, initiating a rolling program of installations. With about one-fifth of the capital's 15,000 taxis already equipped, Aimas Technologies is fitting 150-200 systems monthly, steadily advancing towards complete fleet accessibility.


Ran Meyrav, Contacta’s Head of New Business Development, said: “Hearing loops are the ideal assistive listening technology for these vehicles because they are the only system that is universal.


“That means that no matter where a passenger comes from, if they have a T-coil enabled hearing aid or cochlear implant, they will receive crystal clear sound from the loop.”

  

Leo Movilla, President of SCAT, said: “Due to the position of the driver and the passenger in a taxi, if either one has a hearing problem, communication is more challenging as they are not sat face to face.


“They can’t see facial expressions or read the person’s lips.  It’s difficult to tell if information has been understood. Hearing loops in our taxis mean we can offer communication that’s natural and fluid. We want to offer an inclusive service that enables passengers and drivers to feel comfortable.”

 

Aimas is currently in discussions with taxi associations in other major cities in Spain, as the legislation of hearing accessibility is being rolled into other municipalities.

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