Posts Tagged ‘Maps’

No Half Stepping with Loud Steps Indoor Navigation

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

Loud Steps Logo
If you ever made use of indoor navigation, then you probably are like me and want to see a wider adoption. Boni Loud Steps, an Indoor Navigation company based in Turkey has recently completed a permanent installation at a Chicago hotel.

Hopefully, this is just one step in the direction where we see many more permanent installations in all sorts of venues.

Listen to this conversation with Boni’s Director of Business Development, Paul Colgan. We talk about their approach to development, securing a permanent installation and other exciting pilot programs such as one currently underway in New York City.

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Transcript

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TR:
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right after the theme music!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:
Indoor Navigation uses combinations of smart phones, floor plans , Wi-Fi and electronic beacons to help provide navigational information about a venue such as a mall, hotel, convention center and more.

Smart phones equipped with a screen reader such as voice over on the Apple iPhone, allows people who are blind or low vision to take advantage of this information and independently find their way from point a to b within a facility.

Ever since first experiencing indoor navigation I’ve been waiting for the chance to take advantage of this technology in the wild. By that I mean, make use of the system outside of a promoter blindness related event.

For the most part, applications have been installed at conventions of both ACB and NFB. While I heard there are installations in a few major airports I have not yet travelled through there in order to make use on my own.

Earlier this year I learned of a company named Boni. They’re the creators of the Loud Steps indoor navigation application permanently installed in the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Chicago, North Shore Conference Center in Skokie, Ill..

Excited to learn more about the app and how this installation came to be I spoke with Paul Colgan.
PC:
I am the Director of Business Development and Corporate Strategy for Boni Loud Steps. We’re based here in Chicago, Illinois. We’re a Turkish-American company. There’s a development team in Turkey and then there’s myself and an engineer here in Chicago.

[TR in conversation with PC]
Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Loud Steps.

PC:
Well Boni Loud Steps is an Indoor Navigation a;; for an iPhone with special features for the Blind and Visually Impaired. It also can assist Hearing Impaired people as well. It uses the sensors in the phone along with the Wi-Fi signals in a property to locate you in the property.

TR:

The app assures blind and low vision users can access the step by step on screen instructions navigating a person to their chosen destination.

PC:
The accuracy can be as good as a meter in a hotel where there’s a lot of Wi-Fi. It’s a little bit more than that in a mall or airport where the bigger spaces it’s harder to get the good accuracy.

TR:

Audio: Stepping Out, Joe Jackson

In order to explain how the application works, picture the following.
Let’s suppose I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Chicago. It’s taking place at the Doubletree. Aware that the hotel is equipped with Loud Steps I download the app in advance. However, if I weren’t, when checking into the hotel, a receptionist would inform me of the app and even assist in downloading.

By using a QR code – which is sort of like the codes scanned in the supermarket – but when your smart phone recognizes this code it loads the address to download the application.

PC:
The app itself has a little tutorial in it for first time users. So that first time user gets a quick introduction to the app and then they can begin using it immediately.

TR:

Now that I’m checked in and have my room number, located on the third floor, I key that information into the app.

PC:

The app can then walk you to the elevator, the stairs, the escalator whatever it may be, and instruct you how to go that elevator. And then you can choose the third floor and when you get off the elevator it can tell you to turn right or left, down the hallway and direct you to your destination.

[TR in conversation with PC]
I’m familiar with other Indoor Navigation applications, so does this work similar. So you guys have to install the beacons?

PC:
No, we do not use beacons.

TR:

Beacons are small electronic devices that send a signal using blue tooth. The transmitted signal contains information about the location which can be received by the smart phone in this case.

But beacons cost to install and maintain. While not as expensive, it also introduces a point of potential failure.

PC:
We’re using the radio signal from the Wi-Fi access points to act as our beacon.

When we go into a building we survey all those Wi-Fi signals and we overlay that information – we call it finger printing the Wi-Fi signals every meter.

We put the points of interest on the maps . We label the offices, the rest rooms, the ATM. Then that information we can utilize very quickly to move you around, locate you, draw you a route then to walk you through that route just by using Wi-Fi signals.

TR:

If you’ve never used such an app, you can imagine how
This could reduce or remove the stress involved in spontaneously finding a point of interest in a facility like a hotel.

The technology isn’t new, it just hasn’t been permanently available in many facilities. But Loud Steps, is permanently installed at the Doubletree…

PC:
We went through a world leading innovation hub in Chicago called Elm Spring. One of the investors in Elm Spring was a company that owns the Doubletree. They allowed us access to the Doubletree to test our app and then of course make a permanent installation there.

TR:
Working directly with consumer groups generated feedback to help improve the app.

Implementing Loud Steps at the Doubletree was more like a partnership than an average B to B transaction.

PC:
Their staff and their people have provided us with a lot of feedback in terms of what is necessary to achieve the best service level – quality we need to do because it’s very important to them as a brand to make sure that they had the best possible service.

So they actually pushed us to do a high level job. And it really improved the app overall.

[TR in conversation with PC]
TR:
So when can we get something, you know, in other places, I’m dying for this type of thing.

Let me tell you I experienced this in a couple of places, but the one last year was actually in Pittsburg and I believe that’s a Doubletree property. Just the experience of being able to navigate from one place just seamlessly, just really seamlessly. Once you experience it’s like huh!
(PC laughs!)

And I go to a new hotel and it’s like oh it’s not here I wish I had there here. I want it everywhere! (Laughs…)

PC:
Well, I need that message repeated over and over. So the more you can repeat that message the better because it is a challenge when you go into a facility and they say well why should we do this, shouldn’t we wait until it’s mandated? We try to make the case to them that this is an opportunity to get ahead of the curve. This is an opportunity to provide a benefit to their guests. If they know there are potential customers out there they may not otherwise have then we start to get their attention. And that’s very important

TR:
If we’re only looking at people who are blind or visually impaired, well we know in comparison to the overall population we’re talking about 3 percent.

However, that could be significant.

PC:
When you go to an airport and you say, you have a million passengers coming through. That means there’s 30,000 potential passengers that may or may not becoming through your airport because they don’t know how to discover it. Or, if they come in they request or need an escort. In many of our users don’t want that. They want to have the independence, they want to have the confidence to do it themselves independently.

[TR in conversation with PC]
Is the intent at some point to market this outside of the Blind and Visually Impaired community? I’m assuming there’s other benefits for the general population.

PC:
Oh, there is, exactly. You hit on a key point and this is something that’s been emphasized to us by Mike May who’s with Sendero. Mike makes a very strong point. He says, “I don’t want a single purpose app. Even though they’re beneficial, I want an app that’s available for everyone that has special features so I can use it.”

That’s the way our app is designed and frankly we designed it that way from the ground up. But it was only later that we got confirmation of that from people like Mike May that we were headed in the right direction.

TR:
People with disabilities aren’t the only group who need to find their way around in unfamiliar environments. In addition to navigation, Paul offers a few possibilities that go beyond serving those with disabilities.

PC:
We have the ability to direct you to where the nearest exit is. If there’s an emergency whether it be an incident or fire or you have to vacate the building, we can direct you to the nearest exit. Let’s say there’s a medical emergency. If you suffer a medical event and you need to have a first responder get to you quickly we can communicate it directly to the first responders exactly where you are located in the building so that they can go right to you. If we know that there’s a problem in the east wing we direct you out the west wing.

[TR in conversation with PC]
What about the business side? For example, in malls to be able to serve people ads like when they’re near a Starbuck’s and they’re going to offer you ten percent off a Latte or something like that. Is that part of the plan?

PC:

Yes, So we are doing that now in the malls in Turkey. So we have the capability of providing push notification that’s called. Where yeh, you come by the Starbucks, you come by Kohl’s or whatever the store is that’s in the mall and using your proximity it gets you some information. It could be a coupon it could be well if you come in for the next hour we’ll give you ten percent off. Something like that is really what the retailers want to offer. We now have some capability on our staff to do more precise mapping. What we’re experiencing in Turkey has found that the better maps, the more precise maps, the more up to date maps we have allow the mall operators and the stores in the mall to do a better job of marketing and therefore they get a better response from the users . And so it’s turned into a win-win situation.

[TR in conversation with PC]
I’ve been saying this for years…
if it’s all about marketing to the general public that’s great because that’s the way we’ll get a wider adoption. It’s a bigger audience, it makes sense.

PC:
People want to do the right thing, but they still have budgets to meet. If you can come back to them and say, here’s what I can do for you. Here’s how it can benefit your facility and it now gets their attention. They want the investment because they can see the benefit of it. So that’s part of our sales pitch. Sounds like I should be talking to you about what are you doing on the side business.

PC & TR Laugh…

You’re a good salesmen. You anticipate my needs and my questions already.

[TR in conversation with PC]

The applications for it, to me seem endless. You just have to really be creative with the way you use the system and as long as there’s functionality there. I’ll give you this one or maybe you have it already. There’s was the whole, what was the game?

PC:
Pokémon?

[TR in conversation with PC]
Pokémon, exactly!

A mall, for kids? Come on that’s a no brainer. Building these types of things in there. The kids can have fun using that type of thing.The adults, I mean you can gamify shopping and people will probably buy more, but then at the same time a person with a visual impairment can get to the mall and independently navigate, that’s, that’s huge.

PC:
Yes, That is the goal I mean you’ve outlined the goal very well. That is where we want to be. We want to be an app that can serve a very broad audience, but again have those special features for the visually impaired, the hearing impaired, other people who need a little bit of assistance and do it in such a way its mainstream.

TR:

Boni, based in Turkey, has multiple installations throughout that country.

PC:
There are several locations in Turkey where we have the application installed. Now understand, we used to be a beacon company as well so most of the installations in Turkey are beacon installations but here in the United States I’m trying to do the rollout with just Wi-Fi. In Turkey we do have an airport; Antalya Airport, that’s where we tested it for the airport users. There in conversations with other airports there in Turkey and Europe.

##TR:
In addition to securing other Doubletree locations, Loud Steps looks to go beyond just hotels.

PC:
We’re beginning a test out at O’Hare. We’re not yet at a public level yet but we’re doing some testing there. I’m also talking to some other hotels and other lighthouses around the country. And other facilities that serve the needs of the blind and low vision community about installing some applications at their facilities so they can become training grounds for people to learn how to use the app. And then of course we hope to get it into the community.

TR:
For those in the New York City area , Boni is currently working with the city’s transportation department on a pilot program that will expand the reach of Loud Steps.

PC:
An outdoors application that can inform users at a traffic intersection of when the lights change. It will tell you what direction the traffic is It can tell you where the bus stops are, subways from you location. But more importantly, there’s a bike path there. It’s a very busy intersection in New York City and although it has the APS, Audible Pedestrian Signals system there, they’re looking for a way we can use the app to communicate to the user this information. So again a blind or low vision person can get the kind of information they need when they come upon an intersection. So if they learn quickly what obstacles they’re going to have to deal with in order to cross the street.

TR:
So using this app, a blind or low vision pedestrian would gain real time information including, traffic flow, orientation and surrounding points of interest, traffic light changes, plus…

PC:
We can tell you when you’re deviating from the crosswalk. We may even put in a countdown in there to help you know how long you have to cross the street.

TR:
This attention to detail goes back to Boni’s approach to design.

PC:
We have a design philosophy of solve for accessibility first. Meaning that we have looked at solving the accessibility problems as our primary job and then we built the application from there. As a result we have a I think a better application, a simpler application call it more elegant. It works very well. Easy to learn. By solving for the accessibility issues first, not just an add on, we’ve done a much better job building a great app for people.

TR:
To contact Loud Steps…

PC:
www.loudsteps.com

If you want more information and want to suggest a facility. If you have a hotel, a mall an airport or anything near you you’d like us to talk to the owners, I’ll be happy to do it. My email is paul@boni.meI’ll follow up with you. I’ll send you information about the app and I’ll be happy to follow up with any facility you recommend that I need to talk to.

[TR in conversation with PC]
In terms of the community advocating for this type of installation, outside of contacting you and saying hey, you should put this in my mall (laughs) what else should folks be doing?

PC:
I think that whenever and wherever that they can support the idea of Indoor Navigation for the visually impaired, they should voice it.

Although we are in business to promote our app, but the reality is we work with a lot of other people. We are collaborating on many different levels to try and bring the whole concept of the industry to the wider audience out there and one of the things we’re doing through Sendero for example, is trying to build a database of facilities that have the indoor navigation applications available to them. And in most cases right now it’s beacon based.

So we’re building a database of all the beacons and where they’re located. So whether you’re using my app or somebody else’s app that you have the beacon information and you can go into that facility and use an app. So the idea here is that we want to make it easier for the blind community, the low vision community to find access to this. So anything the community can do to advocate and support the idea of indoor navigation. To tell they’re local government official, we’re talking to universities different places, airports wherever malls… this is a benefit and the number of people out there who may not be visiting your mall because they don’t know how to discover their way through your mall that mall owner is missing an opportunity for a sale. I think the more the community can articulate that, the better it is not only for us but other providers.

Audio: “Ain’t No Half Stepping'”, Big Daddy Kane

TR:

I was very glad to hear Paul say this. I think I told him during the conversation that I tried multiple applications and I am not tied to anyone. I’m a fan of the broad technology and what it provides.

My only issue really with multiple solutions is the extra responsibility to learn and become comfortable with each app.

Personally, I don’t really see this as too much of a problem. As long as the interface is accessible the main components are where am I right now, where do I want to go and how is this app going to help navigate me there.

But that’s me, I like and understand the technology. I would hope to see some standards built in to help those who may find it more challenging to learn the app.

On that same note, I know there are many people who might say, hey I have the skills to independently explore a new location. I go to a mall without the aid of an application and I do just fine. So can you.

Let me speak directly to you… come here, lean in nice and close.

Congratulations, that’s your business.

Lots of times I think people should be able to grasp something because, well I get it therefore I think anyone should.

But that’s really not how the world works.

We all have different strengths and weaknesses. What may be simple for me could really challenge another person.

Technology is about increasing options.

This technology isn’t replacing the need to learn real orientation and mobility skills. It’s just another option to gain access to information that is otherwise inaccessible.

Options are good!

Like you the listener has the option to subscribe to this podcast. You could choose to use Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In or straight at Reid My Mind.com

Hopefully you make the right choice to subscribe! And either way, if you like the show maybe you would consider giving the podcast a 5 star rating.

I know what you’re thinking …

‘PC:
Why should we do this? Shouldn’t we wait until its mandated?

## TR
Well, first of all, while that would be really helpful I haven’t convinced any of my representatives to introduce this bill, just yet!

But really, all of this helps others discover the show.

And..

PC
This is an opportunity to get ahead of the curve.

TR:
He knows what he’s talking about!

Peace!

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