Enhancing Independent Indoor Travel for People with Vision Loss
For people who are blind or low vision, navigating unfamiliar or complex indoor spaces can be a challenging task. However, over the last few years, there has been an emergence of location-based indoor wayfinding technology that has the potential to revolutionize how people with vision loss navigate indoor environments.
One such technology is Goodmaps Explore (Indoor), which I recently had the opportunity to test in a full deployment. While it does not replace traditional mobility aids such as a white cane or guide dog, it provides an experience that is as close to GPS as I have encountered indoors. For people with vision loss. This means greater independence and choice when traveling to places like the CNIB Offices located at the Royal Centre Mall in New Westminster, BC, Canada.
“Goodmaps now supports two separate Apps. Goodmaps Explore (indoor) and Goodmaps Outdoor”
The Goodmaps Explore deployment is the result of a collaboration between CNIB, Royal Centre Mall, and the Goodmaps Explore Team. This collaboration has resulted in a service benefiting both people who are blind and sighted.
As someone who has been involved in the development of location-based indoor wayfinding technology for many years, I have tested several other apps with promising results in trial situations. However, my experience with Goodmaps Explore has been the first full deployment I have had the opportunity to test, and I am impressed with its potential.
It is important to note that while technology like Goodmaps is a step forward in enhancing independent indoor travel for people with vision loss, it does not replace good orientation and mobility training. Proper training, combined with location-based wayfinding technology, can provide a greater sense of independence and freedom for people with vision loss.
My Experience Testing Goodmaps Explore (indoor) App
Recently, I joined ten other participants who were blind or low vision, with a mix of self-guiding, white cane, and guide dog users. The route we were to navigate took us from the second-floor CNIB office main meeting room down to the main floor entrance to Royal Centre Mall and then returning to the CNIB meeting room where we began our journey. The length of the route was about 350 meters in both directions.
Julia Bonnet from the CNIB and Mike May from Goodmaps began the morning by providing a high-level overview of the Goodmaps Explore app. They took the participants through the process of downloading and setting preferences for the app. Mike mentioned that he used a lanyard to hold his smartphone and its camera at chest level for hands-free use of the app.
I had been using a beta version of Goodmaps via TestFlight. But Mike informed me that the beta version was not being actively updated, and I should use the publicly available store app, which I did on my iPhone SE (2nd generation). Once Goodmaps updated to the public version, the app immediately identified the Royal Centre Mall as the closest Goodmaps enabled venue. FYI: the app is available in both iOS and Android formats.
Julia asked all participants to set their route preference to "no steps," which meant escalators and stair routes were not included as part of any journey. Instead, we would all be routed via Royal Centre Mall elevators. This is a great feature for people with mobility challenges, but I thought it was an unnecessary requirement given the highly mobile group of participants.
Both downloading the app and setting preferences were easy. However, the setting of the starting location and destination were a little more time-consuming, for which Julia provided some suggestions for streamlining. Mike indicated that the user experience piece for setting routes was being improved for future versions. That said, we were able to select destinations dependent on the floor they were located, which reduced the number of destinations to scroll.
I was paired up with John, a white cane user, and I was traveling with my guide dog Parker. John and I decided not to use headsets with our phones, using the voice-over audio of our phones as a means to stay connected, rather than having to check on each other's location during the route.
Before we started the route, Mike mentioned that the app had occasionally shut down when in use and asked us to let him know of any similar occurrences. This did happen with me when trying to set the return journey from the main Mall entrance. That said, it was fairly simple to restart the app, and it is something the developers are aware of and working to resolve.
Once the button was pressed to start the route, Mike suggested keeping our smartphone cameras pointed towards the ground, which puts the app into a pause mode. Then, lifting the smartphone camera to be pointed directly forward initiates the app. When activated, it asked me to scan the room to establish my location. The app then confirmed and provided the beginning of my route to move forward four meters, updating the directions as we moved through our journey.
John, using his white cane, traveled a little slower than the pace I traveled with my guide, which worked to John's benefit, as the lag time between the app registering its location and the next set of directions lagged behind the pace I was traveling.
The sporadic lag time in directions and at times long delay between instructions is the major hurdle the Goodmaps Team need to overcome. That said, with a little patience it is a very effective tool in guiding users through a journey.
In addition, the high battery power consumption by the app is also important for users to be aware and take steps to conserve power or have a recharger at hand. Found about ten percent power drain for every ten minutes of use with my iPhone SE.
Within Goodmaps, there is also a link to the remote assistant app “Be My Eyes”. Users can connect if they need assistance to identify there surroundings or help with other visual information required.
In regard to Goodmaps Explore virtual map option. I found the feature lacking in flexibility. I had previously used the Accessibuild App. Which provided instructions for the whole journey in steps or metres along with the option to identify all stores, room numbers and architectural elements that could assist in your real time journey. Found this type of information really useful for trip planning and hope it will be expanded upon in Goodmaps Explore.
We used the Goodmaps Explore App to navigate a route from the CNIB office to the Royal Centre Mall main entrance and back. Participants were given an overview of the app by Julia Bonnet from CNIB and Mike May from Goodmaps before setting preferences and downloading the app. The app was easy to download and preferences were easy to set. However, the process of selecting starting and destination locations was a little time-consuming. The app occasionally shut down during use but was easy to restart. The main hurdle was the lag time in directions and at times long delay between instructions. Battery power consumption was high, and the Goodmaps virtual map option was found lacking in flexibility. Despite these challenges, the app was effective in guiding users through the journey.
Finally, I want to give a thumbs up to CNIB, Royal Centre Mall, and Goodmaps Explore Team for their partnership and collaboration in enhancing independent indoor travel for everyone. Keep up the great work, and I look forward to exploring your future venues.
For more information on Goodmaps Explore (indoor) and to download the app, click on the following link: https://goodmaps.com/apps/explore
In our comments section. Please share your comments and experiences using Goodmaps Explore.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and keep Exploring the fabulous world around us.
- David Brun
- Gateway Navigation CCC Ltd.
- North Vancouver, BC