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San Francisco Airport Testing Beacon System For Blind Travelers

samzenpus posted about 3 months ago | from the making-it-easier dept.

Transportation 61

An anonymous reader points out this pilot program in San Francisco to help blind passengers better navigate the airport. San Francisco Airport is testing out location-aware beacons to help visually-impaired people navigate around one of its newest terminals, a program it could roll out to the rest of the airport if successful. An early version of the system was shown off to press today for use on Apple iOS devices, though SFO also plans to make it available for Android users and eventually expand the system to serve up information for those who can see. The beacons are coming from an indoor positioning company Indoo.rs and have been installed throughout the terminal. Each beacon will connect to a smartphone app to pop up with information when a user gets within range. For the visually impaired, the system uses Apple's Voiceover technology to read out points of interest as they come on screen, though an early version of the app also gives people visual cues for how to navigate to locations from a directory that can be sorted. That means you could tell it to help you find the nearest power outlet to juice your gear, or the nearest coffee shops to recharge your body.

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Help the blind get advertised to? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596165)

This sounds like a crazy giant advertising system, basically. I really doubt it's going to help the blind as much as it helps the bottom line of the businesses located in the airport.

Re:Help the blind get advertised to? (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 3 months ago | (#47596509)

I know, right!
A system that tells someone what they're standing near or how to get somewhere specific would be completely useless for someone who can't see.

fucking mouth-breather.

Re:Help the blind get advertised to? (1)

Livius (318358) | about 3 months ago | (#47596615)

It could be abused with advertising, but it really does sound like the right solution with actual potential to help the blind.

Far too much of what is done for the disabled is purely for show, based on the idea that a nuisance for the able-bodied makes the desired political statement, even if the benefit is to only a tiny fraction, if any, of the disabled population.

ROI?? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596169)

What is the yearly cost per blind traveler?? Yes, being blind sucks but resources are still finite. Wasting capital is what leads to economic collapse.

ADA?? (1, Offtopic)

stomv (80392) | about 3 months ago | (#47596177)

Yes, being blind sucks. That's part of why we have the Americans with Disabilities Act. Investing capital on taking care of those less fortunate is what leads to a prosperous society for all.

Re:ADA?? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596417)

Yes, being blind sucks. That's part of why we have the Americans with Disabilities Act. Investing capital on taking care of those less fortunate is what leads to a prosperous society for all.

No, it's something a prosperous society does for those less fortunate.

People on the edge of starvation don't build ramps for wheelchairs nor put Braille on signage in order to better their lives.

It's worthwhile, but let's face it: a large reason why we as a society do such things is so we can wrench our arms out of joint patting ourselves on the back about how great we are.

We do it to show that we can.

Re:ADA?? (1)

easyTree (1042254) | about 3 months ago | (#47597367)

Investing capital on taking care of those less fortunate is what leads to a prosperous society for all.

In light of this understanding, it does make me wonder why your country doesn't have a National Health Service [wikipedia.org] favoured by many civilized countries.

Contrast this with:
  * http://www.hhs.gov/ [hhs.gov]

where there's a series of questions to help you determine if you qualify for healthcare :S

Re:ADA?? (0)

Loki_1929 (550940) | about 3 months ago | (#47597761)

In light of this understanding, it does make me wonder why your country doesn't have a National Health Service [wikipedia.org] favoured by many civilized countries.

My guess is because we don't like paying vastly higher taxes, waiting in seemingly endless (up to two years for an operation during certain periods) lines for care (well, unless you're rich of course, in which case you don't bother with the public system in countries like the UK or Canada), being denied newer and better treatments because a committee decided against it (here coverage is determined by the insurance company and you can choose your insurance provider and plan based on your specific needs, such as necessary coverage for specific medications), facing a "post code lottery" where your quality of care depends on what side of an imaginary line you live on, higher heart disease mortality (36% higher in the UK over the US, which is bad considering how much we abuse our hearts over here), not being able to find a doctor or dentist at all (70% of dentists in Quebec opt out of the public system), and on and on and on.

The system we have is imperfect, but it has clear benefits over the ones in Canada and the UK. I've never waited more than a week to have anything treated and I almost always get treatment the same day or the next day for any issue I have. Of the two operations I've had, one was scheduled on my schedule - I picked the date and time to fit well with my work schedule about a week after it was determined to be necessary - and the other was on an emergency basis where my doctor met me at the hospital and had me on the operating table within about 30 minutes. Any testing I need can be done same-day. A quick glance at my doctor's availability (that office has a mobile app for scheduling appointments) shows I could have a 15 or 30 minute appointment with her tomorrow or up to 45 minutes the day after.

I'm not rich; I work for a living. Yet I don't wait for anything. I don't wait to be seen by a doctor. I don't wait to get any testing I need. I don't wait to get any procedures I need. I don't wait for medications. It all happens on my schedule and as quickly as I'd like it. I pay $15 to see the doctor and $50 if I end up in the hospital for something serious. Anything paid out of pocket gets taken care of with untaxed money, meaning it's at a huge discount to me. And it isn't just me (nor is it just about me); everyone I know who has a job has great healthcare coverage. Is it a perfect system? No. Does every single person have perfect access to outstanding care? No. But we're improving all the time and it isn't (at least as of yet) coming at everyone else's expense.

To me, it's an argument of most people getting great care versus everyone getting mediocre to poor care (see also: the VA medical system). Quite similar to the classic market system argument of capitalism versus socialism. You can either give everyone the chance to get rich (with some ending up poor and most somewhere in the middle) or ensure everyone is equally poor. If the people in the UK, Canada, France, etc are happy with their system, great! I don't begrudge their happiness. However, I don't think the benefits of moving to such systems outweigh the drawbacks in the minds of most Americans. Rather than pretend either system is perfect, I think it best to recognize that each has its pros and cons and that the priorities and sensibilities of the people in a given country drive their decisions on how to achieve the greatest good.

Re:ADA?? (2)

zennyboy (1002544) | about 3 months ago | (#47598139)

You do note, and therefore know, you can have Private Insurance in the UK too. Even WHO thinks the American system is bad for consumers... http://content.time.com/time/h... [time.com]

Re:ADA?? (1)

Loki_1929 (550940) | about 3 months ago | (#47598719)

Yes, as I stated, if you have enough money, you can escape the NHS. I would argue that more people would get better care if they weren't being taxed so heavily to pay for the NHS, particularly if they aren't using it ("double payers"). The existence of a private system pinpoints a painful but obvious truth: that the NHS and systems like it are not the panacea of healthcare they're often hailed as being. For those who would otherwise have nothing available, systems like the NHS provide a safety net that ensures they get at least some level of care, eventually. For everyone else, it can mean long lines, denied care, and other challenges.

US health outcome numbers are skewed by a variety of factors such as gang violence, drug problems, a high rate of imprisonment, a higher percentage of rural communities where access to the latest and greatest healthcare tools isn't readily available, the fact that many low income individuals under 65 don't have regular access to medical care, overuse of defensive medicine, and a number of other things. It's the same sort of challenges you find when comparing any stats between very different countries. If you control for those differences, you'll find that some of the best care on Earth is available in the US, but it's an imperfect system.

Our system leaves some people without access to much care. The NHS leaves some people on a waiting list for years on end and drives others to head to other parts of Europe, India, Malaysia, and even the US for care. Each system has its issues; nobody has completely figured out healthcare just yet. The only way to realistically do so is to so cold and uncaring that even an economist might feel a twinge of moral concern. Nobody wants to pull the plug on grandma, and that's just step one to making a system that can provide a reasonable level of care to all. Step two is kids.

Re:ADA?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47598609)

You've clearly never used the NHS - all your examples are incorrect.

I get an appointment at my doctors in a max of 48 hours. They have a mobile app booking system, I have just looked - appointments today, tomorrow and all week are available.

Hospital appointments - I've waited everything from one day to 2 weeks.

Everything is free at the point of delivery. Stats show the US has the worst outcomes and the highest cost. Glad you're happy with your 3rd world system, the rest of the West has a far, far better system - the fact it's "fairer" is a bonus, not the main thing.

Re:ROI?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596203)

If you think any company would willingly help out anyone who is not buddies with the CEO out of the goodness of their black hearts you're being naive. This is about advertising, that it may end up helping the blind is an unintended consequence.

Re:ROI?? (2)

milkmage (795746) | about 3 months ago | (#47596251)

the beacons cost $20 each.

yes. resources are finite, but $20 per is not a lot.

Re:ROI?? (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 3 months ago | (#47597669)

Unfortunately it isn't enough to include any security features or useful information. These beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy which basically transmits and unauthenticated unique identifier. The device then looks the identifier up on the internet.

Anyone can easily fake the unique ID, effectively moving existing beacons around at will. The receiving device then has to look the ID up online, so unless the airport offers free wifi most travellers will either not have any internet access or be forced to use ultra expensive roaming. They could get around this issue with a dedicated app that has the data in it already, as long as they can resist giving it ridiculous permissions.

Re:ROI?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47600273)

The receiving device then has to look the ID up online, so unless the airport offers free wifi most travellers will either not have any internet access or be forced to use ultra expensive roaming.

SFO offers free wifi.

Re:ROI?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47601499)

the beacons cost $20 each.

yes. resources are finite, but $20 per is not a lot.

5$ (gimbal)

How my mom gets through airports (1)

billstewart (78916) | about 3 months ago | (#47597071)

Yes, I know you're trolling, but I'm going to comment anyway.

My mom's not blind, but her vision's really lousy (age-related macular degeneration, like a lot of old people with serious vision problems.) She takes wheelchairs in the airport, which not only takes care of navigation, but also helps her deal with distance (she can do short distances herself, but has trouble with long distances or long standing.) As the Boomer generation gets old and decrepit, we're going to start doing the same.

Using technology instead of labor is what capital is for. The capital only gets wasted if these sensors are obsolete in a couple of years, and if we haven't learned any lessons about design or implementation from it.

Blind after viewing Slashdot Beta ? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596193)

Did these travellers go blind before or after viewing Slashdot Beta ?

IOW Dice, can't you take a bloody hint and knock the Beta on the head once and for all ?

Nobody wants the blasted thing and it's really pissing me off when browsing Slashdot as a AC given the frequency you are pushing it to ACs at the moment.

Re:Blind after viewing Slashdot Beta ? (1)

easyTree (1042254) | about 3 months ago | (#47597377)

Where is the precedent for corporations caring about users/customers?

I thought so... I guess you'll be stopping moaning about beta soon then...?

iOS? Android? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596205)

Out of curiosity, how do blind people use iOS or Android devices?

Re:iOS? Android? (4, Informative)

milkmage (795746) | about 3 months ago | (#47596273)

first they get the manuals.. in braille. then they turn on voiceover (it's baked in to iOS)

lighthouse for the blind:

http://lighthouse-sf.org/brail... [lighthouse-sf.org]

Re:iOS? Android? (1)

dottrap (1897528) | about 3 months ago | (#47596347)

You can tell Siri to enable VoiceOver for you on iOS.

Re:iOS? Android? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596537)

Most use iOS, because it's accessibility support is substantially better.

Android's annoying (1)

billstewart (78916) | about 3 months ago | (#47597089)

Maybe a current Android phone is better, but my old one has helpful things like a microphone icon next to the keyboard that you can press and type by voice recognition instead of keyboard. Which I suppose is useful, after I put on my reading glasses to do texting or other apps in the first place. (I'm sorry, I want the equivalent of being able to tell Siri to do stuff without needing to look at the keyboard - how else am I going to text while driving\\\\\\\\ um, use the phone with limited vision? And my HTC's version of Android didn't even let me pick a font size for text messaging; HTC just knew I'd prefer to see more lines of conversation and wouldn't need to do the pinch thing to make the text bigger.)

Re:Android's annoying (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 3 months ago | (#47607245)

(I'm sorry, I want the equivalent of being able to tell Siri to do stuff without needing to look at the keyboard - how else am I going to text while driving\\\\\\\\ um, use the phone with limited vision

You say, "Siri, text Mom I'm going to be late" then "Siri, send".

If you're going to the Messages app and composing it there, you're doing it wrong.

Re:Android's annoying (1)

billstewart (78916) | about 2 months ago | (#47698717)

This is a belated reply, but the title was "Android's annoying". Yes, if I had an iPhone, I could use Siri, and it would Just Work, because that's what shiny Apple things do. On an Android phone, it's (optionally unlock the screen, then) go to Messaging, then hit the little microphone icon that tells it you want Google to interpret some speech, then tell it what the speech is, then hit the send button, all of which require me to put on my reading glasses first (which would be a bad idea, if I were driving, which of course I'm not.)

That's not even counting the HTC-skinned version of text messaging app, which knows I want to see lots of previous call history on the screen at once, and knows I'm not going to need to do the thumb-pinch thing to make the text bigger, much less having a menu entry to let me choose font size first, but that was my old 2.0-custom-HTC-AT&T version of Android, as opposed to KitKat.

Re:iOS? Android? (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 3 months ago | (#47597633)

Out of curiosity, how do blind people use iOS or Android devices?

iOS has VoiceOver that actually works pretty damn well for using iOS. So much so that the blind actually prefer using an iPhone and an iPad for their purposes than Android (which still has fairly poor accessibility especially across devices).

Tommy Edison (Blind Film Critic) demonstrates how he uses the iPhone 4s - https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] - composing a tweet, browsing YouTube, etc.

It is certainly unusual, but the blind have actually taken to devices like the iPhone and iPad.

The beacons use Bluetooth LE, last I checked, and the technology has been deployed already - I believe MLB has been outfitting the stadiums with them, as well as stores deploying them. The beacons are standalone - they do not do anything other than transmit an ID. It's a related app that is responsible for accessing the appropriate services to determine what the ID actually means. So it's not like the beacons could easily record your movements through the store. At least not without someone having to dump the data off them as they don't link up to a backend server - your phone is responsible for the lookup. Don't want it? Easiest way is to not get the app.

Re:iOS? Android? (1)

awtbfb (586638) | about 3 months ago | (#47600731)

It is also quite straightforward to make your app VoiceOver friendly. The tricky part is managing some of the VoiceOver gestures. Aside from the equivalent of alt tags on images, the most important part is getting the step forward/backward and continuous scroll gestures working right in your app. Turn on VoiceOver, swipe down with two fingers and see what happens. Then swipe one finger left or right. If you've done your job right, the cursor will move in the order you expect. Scrolling on lists that go below the fold are also subtle, yet important.

mmmmm bacon (4, Funny)

muphin (842524) | about 3 months ago | (#47596305)

am i the only one who thought they were testing a bacon system...

Re:mmmmm bacon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596565)

That does work! Maybe not with bacon, but Cinnabun? Shit. You can find those things from anywhere in a mall from scent alone.

Maybe that's what they should do. Cinnabons by baggage claim, bacon/burgers by ticketing, boarding for flights will have other scents.

It could work!

Re:mmmmm bacon (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 3 months ago | (#47598945)

"You know that Cinnabon odor? Like you're walking through the mall, and you're like “What's that smell? Ouch, I just got a cavity! Damn Cinnabon!” - Jim Gaffigan

Re:mmmmm bacon (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 3 months ago | (#47600947)

with eggs could be used for Lost and Found?

Re:mmmmm bacon (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596957)

U are not. I pondered poking my remaining good eye out for a second!

Re:mmmmm bacon (1)

kentfowl (612507) | about 3 months ago | (#47601075)

am i the only one who thought they were testing a bacon system...

Me too. I had envisioned this whole system where the smell of bacon leads them to their seat on the plane.

DHS and TSA Will Kill This When Congress Resumes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596313)

The winning argument from DHS/TSA will be that the system provides 4-dimensional maps of the 'Security Check Point Area' thus rendering the security check point area personal to Terrorists attack from U.S.A. citizens, the most hated terrorists of the DHS/TSA.

Welcome to the new normal at the "airports."

Ta ta

I'd start worrying (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596359)

when the person using the beacon system is wearing a pilot's uniform...

Capt Sum Ting Wong will still miss the runway (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596421)

Wi Tu Lo and Ho Lee Fuk not available for comment.

Re:Capt Sum Ting Wong will still miss the runway (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 3 months ago | (#47598955)

I guess the moderator has not heard that this was shown on television [thetimes.co.uk] .

Re:Capt Sum Ting Wong will still miss the runway (1)

k6mfw (1182893) | about 3 months ago | (#47603191)

I remember that broadcast, I missed the "joke" and was thinking it didn't make sense because about same time in other media one mentioned a different set of names, another mentioned names of crew withheld pending investigation. At the time I was looking into how will it effect my flight into SJC (about 40 miles south) and also what caused such a simple landing to go wrong (maybe it is not that simple). But later I cringed thinking about the KTVU falling for bad information. Supposably, they called FAA to confirm but got someone who was taking messages for a FAA official who asked another person, etc. I guess pressure to be the first to get the news before someone else (I think it is better to be second or third place and be right instead of first place and be wrong).

Sounds Rudimentary (2)

Scottingham (2036128) | about 3 months ago | (#47596439)

From what they say, it seems like it is going to be a pretty rough implementation at first. How would the system deal with multiple beacons?

There is an Israeli research group doing research into using synthesizer timbres for navigation. I hope they collaborate.

Re:Sounds Rudimentary (1)

grouchomarxist (127479) | about 3 months ago | (#47597215)

Using signal strength you can get a rough estimate of which beacon is closest. With more than 2 beacons you can estimate your position relative to the beacons.

Re:Sounds Rudimentary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47597259)

Retailers and sports stadiums seem to be coping with multiple iBeacons ok. (yes there's a practical density limit, and people sometimes screw up architecturally in trying to navigate with beacons lane, but on the Apple side of the house, their Indoor Positioning Service and iBeacons seem to do navigation and proximity awareness pretty well)

Beacon? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596445)

I read that as bacon.

Let's look at facts (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596525)

Number of Gay people - 2.3 % - http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/n... [cdc.gov]

Number of blind people - 0.3% - http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What... [answers.com]


I know it sucks to be whatever victim you are but do I have to pay for everything?

Re:Let's look at facts (1)

easyTree (1042254) | about 3 months ago | (#47597391)

If others like you hadn't tried to opt out of providing you with a moral education, you wouldn't be asking this question.

Re:Let's look at facts (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 3 months ago | (#47598975)

So... you want a beacon system for gay travellers?

Available for Korean Air pilots, too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596765)

Just asking

GoOat (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596837)

blind prejudice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47596845)

Kind of surprised at the level of accessibility ignorance shown in some of these comments. Yes, blind people can use IPhones and Androids. We're not fucking primitives, and there are these things called screen readers. No, this is not a pointless waste of money. We're fucking people too, and there're these concepts called equality and universal access. Get with the program, please.

Sorry, but I didn't expect sightist condescention from here, of all places.

Anyway, airports are notoriously hard to navigate blind, so I'm glad there are solutions being tested out. Though I wonder if this won't be obsoleted by indoor GPS when it comes out.

Re:blind prejudice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47604939)

Same! I'm a pretty good traveler and aren't shy about asking people direct questions regarding where I am or where things are in unfamiliar airports, but I know a lot of blind travelers who've been bullied into the wheelchair service because the options available are either: 1: you're on you're own or 2: sit in the chair. Having the equivalent of virtual maps your blind customers can use means that they have an option between "fend for yourself" and "be treated like a child."

But what about bacon systems for the blind? (1)

drew_92123 (213321) | about 3 months ago | (#47597001)

Blind folks like bacon too ya jerks!

Priorities (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 3 months ago | (#47597595)

That means you could tell it to help you find the nearest power outlet to juice your gear, or the nearest coffee shops to recharge your body.

Or, you know, the way to your boarding gate. That may have been a slightly more pertinent example in this case.

Re:Priorities (1)

sbrown7792 (2027476) | about 3 months ago | (#47598669)

But if they help the traveler leave, how will they extract more money out of them?
Won't somebody think of the 'convenience' shops selling $10 candy?!

That will be great fun to hack! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47597699)

The restroom is to your left, 50 yards. And send blind people tumbling down flights of stairs! Brilliant!

Non-technical solutions (1)

Loki_1929 (550940) | about 3 months ago | (#47597775)

This really seems like an over-hyped, massively expensive technical solution to a problem that could easily be fixed with some volunteer organizations providing guides on an as-needed basis. Here's a thought: require all public high school students to provide X number of hours (start with 200) of public service as a requirement for graduation. Do something similar with college students receiving Federal student aid. Oh look, suddenly volunteers everywhere! And these volunteers can actually adapt to the needs of individuals and don't cost a fortune to implement, update, and maintain!

Re:Non-technical solutions (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 3 months ago | (#47598511)

Here's a thought: require all public high school students to provide X number of hours (start with 200) of public service as a requirement for graduation.

Why do you hate workers? Why do you love slavery? Why don't you want people to be paid for their work?

Re:Non-technical solutions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47599909)

I think if you force someone to do something as a requirement to get something else they want it's a bit of a stretch to refer to them as a "volunteer".

Re:Non-technical solutions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47604929)

While I don't see this sort of technical solution as essential as an experienced blind traveler, I definitely see it as very useful for finding shops, finding your gate, knowing which level baggage will be on without having to ask someone or relying on prior knowledge of a given airport.

Volunteer organizations providing guides? Blind people don't want to be treated like charity cases or children that need supervision. Waiting for a 16 year old human guide dog to tell you how you're "like, so brave" at every visit to the airport while dragging you by the arm to your gate is a demeaning waste of time. We already have the paid version of that, in the form of airport staff that tries to shove you in a wheelchair and cart you to your gate.

As it is when I travel, I often have to firmly turn down offers for assistance once or twice and give an airline worker a specific, guided question which allows them to tell me how to get where I need to go, and not just point to it or offer to get me a wheelchair. In airports I'm familiar with because I travel them regularly, I know where a couple of shops, checkout, counters, etc generally are and can with some accuracy count the gates because I know their numbering format, although I'll stop and confirm "Am I at gate M14?" with anyone around once I get there.

I'm an experienced traveler, and it's already enough of a harassment to turn down the offered "help" and get actual, useful verbal assistance in locating unfamiliar places. For someone who is less familiar with airports, or more intimidated when trying to relay their actual needs to people, cutting out others and going digital can be a huge benefit.

Needing an app to pick up these beacons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47597875)

If you need an app to pick up these beacons, then you can not be blind, or what? :-)

Re:Needing an app to pick up these beacons? (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 3 months ago | (#47598995)

Accessibility in iOS [apple.com] .

So ironic (1)

Skynyrd (25155) | about 3 months ago | (#47599767)

SFO is one of the worst offenders in the "poorly labeled airports" category. Even with good eyesight, it's a mess to navigate.

Perhaps they can learn something from this project, and use it on sighted users as well.

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