ATU347 – GPS Navigation and Fitness Tracking for Wheelchairs – Briometrix


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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show notes: GPS Navigation and Fitness Tracking for Wheelchairs – Briometrix
Natalie Verndon, Co-founder, Briometrix |
Student Design Competition | Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America

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——-transcript follows ——

NATALIE VERNDON:  This is Natalie Vernon, and I’m the cofounder of BrioMetrix, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 347 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to be released on January 19, 2018.

Today I talked to a new friend, Natalie Verndon, who is a cofounder of BrioMetrix in Australia. They are doing some pretty interesting stuff having to do with wheelchairs, fitness trackers, GPS and more.

We hope will check out our website at, give us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project, or call our listener line. The number is 317-721-7124.We love to hear your feedback, your questions, your comments. You might even hear your voice right here on the show.

Seeing AI, accessible grilling, hover cam ultra, door dash food delivery, and ADA laptop wheelchair trays?  These are all topics of YouTube video that we’ve done recently. If you didn’t know, the INDATA Project has a pretty robust YouTube channel with hundreds of videos.  Head on over to

If you are a college student working in the area of assistive technology or rehab engineering, RESNA is having a student design competition. They’re looking for the missions in the area of access and communication technologies, cognitive and sensory impairments, internationally appropriate technology, and more. There is a deadline to get your submission in, it’s April 13 of 2018. If you are looking for the guidelines and applications, I’ll pop a link in the show notes over to RESNA and you can get a hold of your faculty advisor, your student design team, and try to win some cash and a trip to RESNA. Check our show notes.

Not long ago, I was looking at an article that was talking about wheelchairs and GPS and mapping. I’m sort of one of those nerds who likes that technology to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there and what the best route. An article I found was on the Australia broadcasting Corporation website. It was about a company called BrioMetrix and a new product called NavAbility. I was fascinated and needed to learn more. I just couldn’t stand not to know more. We reached out to the company, and not leave earned in, who was one of the cofounders of BrioMetrix agreed to come on the show and talk to us about what their technology is looking like and what it’s going to be.

Natalie, welcome from Australia, right?

NATALIE VERNDON:  Yes, that’s correct. Hi, Wade.

WADE WINGLER:  Thank you so much for taking time out of the start of your work a day, the end of my work day. I love doing these global interviews. Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in wheelchair accessibility and may be a little bit about BrioMetrix as well.

NATALIE VERNDON:  I background was always around working with things involving change and change management projects. I worked as a consultant for around 25 years. My business partners were always working it with innovation and commercialization products. We report in a few years ago to be asked to assist on a new wheelchair design. When we started to look at that, we had a wonderful opportunity to meet everybody who is using a wheelchair. They started to talk about some of the issues around fitness and getting out and about. That had us fascinated, that it was an area that was so important but everyone didn’t seem to be focusing on it. We had really old mobility maps and very difficult – they were trying to do things like get a fit bit or other devices to work, but we just had fantastic conversations about what were the important things to them that weren’t being addressed.

We were fortunate enough to sit down and say, look, when one project ends, why don’t we take this project up. That’s when we became involved with BrioMetrix. Over the last two years, we’ve been working with our spinal cord injury hospitals, our wheelchair community, our sports community. We talked to our everyday users, our Para-Olympians, just trying to find out what are the things that were important to them. That was really the start of NavAbility. We both [Inaudible] full-time consulting and committed to BrioMetrix full-time.

WADE WINGLER:  Wow. While NavAbility is the product that caught my attention and the thing I want to spend a lot of our time on today, you guys do a number of products, right?

NATALIE VERNDON:  We do a number of products. We have NavAbility, and we have fitness can we also have another clinical tool that’s coming out in a little bit.

WADE WINGLER:  Let’s talk about your fitness product just a minute before we jump into NavAbility. Tell me about that.

NATALIE VERNDON:  The fitness part was the first area we started to tackle. That’s when we found it was crazy for everyone to be using other technologies that were really designed for walking. Of course, the technology wasn’t designed for propulsion. With that, what we are looking at is we don’t just want to measure strokes, the number of strokes [Inaudible] wheelchair community and from the physios [Inaudible] unlike in a fit bit, where they want you to walk 10,000 steps a day. That doesn’t work for this community. It’s kind of a use it, don’t abuse it that we had to work with. We are looking at stroke efficiency and effort, which is like a calorie burn, what kind of effort you go through throughout the day. We look at things like distance and speed and acceleration, all the different areas like doing wheelies, up and down gutters, those issues. The fitness tracker is looking at those things. We are also trying to make it so that it will have the social content as well, so you can set goals with each other and link up with people as well.

When we were doing the fitness tracker – that was the funny thing – it was the thing that led on to NavAbility. When we are doing our forums and talking to different people, we would open the forearms up and say tell us about somewhere you gone new. When you are out doing fitness Scott you’d like to go somewhere that’s more interesting. That’s when we started to learn for more about how difficult it was to get out and about. I think we always knew it in the back of our minds, because when we would go out with different people, we realized how it’s very difficult just to go from A to B without understanding how accessible that pathway is to you. We are still working on fitness, but that’s when we grew into saying NavAbility is really the thing that’s critical that we’ve got to get going. We’ve got to make a practical tool.

Really it was out of the forearms and listening to everybody that we had that moment of, ah, that’s the product that’s missing. That’s the product we need to concentrate on as well.

WADE WINGLER:  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of companies that do that. They set out to work on one problem and have that aha moment and pivot and realize here is the thing. I’m excited that you’re doing that.

NATALIE VERNDON:  We’ve put two products together. When you get NavAbility, you’ll get the beginning of your fitness measures as well. The fitness is a separate product that has a lot more measures that go with it, but we incorporated some of the early ones into NavAbility as well to make it really interesting and enjoyable.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m trying to picture what this technology looks like, how it attaches. Give me some of the physicality of the product.

NATALIE VERNDON:  When we look at the product, for us there is the commercial side of it, and there’s also the personal side of it. If I talk about the commercial side of it, that’s where we have what we will call a logger or tracker. We attach that to the wheelchair and it would be doing, collect the reading of the path and also the wheelchair user. When we look at that – and when we are talking about the people who use wheelchairs, we have come up with a wheelchair, pilot. When we talk to our community, we told a story once about how I am in – my business partner – was studying paragliding. Whenever you are in control of a vehicle, whether it be a paraglider, hand glider, a bike, a car, you are in charge of that vehicle and you are in charge of its destiny. It’s in your hands. We love the story about being a pilot, so we spoke to our community and they said we are pretty happy to be called pilots. That’s what we call everybody.

What we would do is attach our loggers to our pilots. What the logger is actually doing is reading both the pathway and the conditions of our user as well. The important thing with BrioMetrix and what we’ve tried to explain to our councils and governments over here – we’re working with national parks as well – it’s not about gradients. Gradient is one of the factors that the trackers will look at. What we are looking at is saying when I go down a path, what is the effect of that path on me?  What effort does it take for me?  When we are working with the trackers, it will be able to talk to us. When it first starts off, it will do an individual reading of the general population were doing the work with us. For example, we had four guys doing mapping around Sydney. That’s what the tracker will do, it will locate and create the paths. That tracker is available now.

What we are working on at the moment and it will be do very late April, early May, is a smartphone version. What we will be able to do is, to be able to give to all of our community, is they will be able to have a smartphone, and if they opt in, it will be able to start recording all the paths. In my mind and my goal, what I would love to see is when people download NavAbility, which will be a free app, they will be recording and tracking the roads and making all these pathways and understanding the accessibility of that path. As they lay the path, they are kind of being the scouts for everybody else. Then other people who come in the area will see those paths, and they can look at that path and see how that affects them.

WADE WINGLER:  As I conceptualize this – I mean, I use a number of apps to help me with my car traffic. I use Google maps or Waze or some of those things. It’s doing something similar. It’s watching other people’s smartphones and figuring out where is a traffic slow and fast and helping me to navigate around that based on that crowd sourced information. Is that what I’m hearing?

NATALIE VERNDON:  Yeah. This is the crowd sourced information. With that information will look at, it will look at a path and highlight the path. If the path is green, that’s like an easy level to work with. If it’s a blue path, it’s a path you will be able to cruise through, really low effort. If it’s a purple path, you have some coasting but it will take some braking. If you look at the other side, when it goes from yellow to orange to red, that’s when you are getting from the moderate incline right up to a really steep incline where you could need some assistance.

For us, Google maps is a set of maps where you can follow the roads. For our wheelchair community, for our pilots, those paths don’t exactly work that way. What NavAbility is doing is reading those paths and saying for someone who is actually trying to propel their wheelchair, is this path going to be easy, or will there be an incline, or is it going to require a lot of braking?  So the crowdsourcing will look at putting down that first layer of what that route is going to be like for somebody, and then when you have your own smartphone – we have developed it. We’re just trying to do the finalized stages. When you use it with your smartphone, the smartphone will be reading your effort, your fitness level, your condition, the requirements and start to say this path may be green for somebody else, but for yourself when you’re going down this path, because as your fitness level or your condition, this path might be more toward yellow picked it will take more effort for you.

The nice thing about NavAbility is it will eventually be customized for you. Everyone’s different. Everyone has different levels of skills and levels of fitness. That’s what we are trying to do with the paths. You can pick a path that might be in the red zone if you think, well, I’ve managed it 1000 times before, so you can take that path. Or you might say, look, I’m a bit tired today or shouldn’t be stressing myself. Let me try to find a path that is an easier path to go down. It’s really about your independence. We are trying to get NavAbility to lay down the information for you. Whether it’s in your local area or if we are out doing some walks or trials, those sorts of things, that’s when NavAbility enters all its readings.

I’m sure the first person who said I’m going to get into a Google car and map the world, they must have looked at them and thought, are you crazy. To me, I just have that vision of what we can do this. We can actually get our community to help others get out and about and let’s do some more traveling and get this information we need to make decisions about travel and doing what we need to do.

WADE WINGLER:  I think it’s fascinating. I think it’s the convergence of a lot of technologies and it really helpful information. I used to be a cyclist, so knowing where you’re going but also the incline and effort really rang true for me as I thought about it from a bicycling perspectives. Depending on your fitness level and your day, you may think about those routes differently. That makes total sense to me from that perspective.

NATALIE VERNDON:  We are working with Google maps. Google maps introduced looking at upgrading the accessibility of different locations. Because we’re going to work with this technology, we are trying to get to bangs for every buck. When we are out and doing our mapping, also if people want to stop and write a café or venue or whatever location they are at four accessibility, then we are starting to get those two pieces of information together. NavAbility is about how to get there, and the other apps that talk about accessibility or writing locations, now let me tell you about what the accessibility is like for the location. We’re trying to get our technology to talk with other sets of technology, not to separate them out, but let’s talk together and put into the hands of our pilots with pieces of information they need to more effortlessly get out and about. That’s the vision and goal we have for NavAbility.

WADE WINGLER:  That makes total sense because you could have a route to get to a restaurant or something that is very clear to get to, but if the bathrooms aren’t accessible once you get there, then you have a different issue.

NATALIE VERNDON:  Yeah. We know that this is trying to put the tool into the hands of people who are the ones who know and can make that proper judgment. That’s what we experienced. We just recently did mapping for the city of Sydney for our festival for New Year’s eve. The city of Sydney developed all these accessible routs that they could get people down to the water side to watch the fireworks, and we had our guys Jason and Ash and Mark go out, and they were doing the mapping with us. They came back and said if you choose this path, it’s exhausting. One of the paths was just far too much breaking and was far too dangerous. When we did the mapping, we went back to the Council, and the Council said we actually thought we chose some good paths. They change the paths right away. That’s the thing that’s great because it’s that first-hand knowledge that says it looks okay for you but it’s a lot of braking for us. We know the level of fitness somebody else may have to have to get there. It’s not a great general path for everybody. That’s the sort of things we are able to do, is the changing.

It’s going to be great education. Knowledge that our wheelchair community always had, but this is not a really great tool of data to be able to give to our councils and our city planners and urban cities and smart cities and say this is data about what we can do for being more inclusive as a city.

NavAbility, the wheelchair for our wheelchair community is about let’s give you really great maps, let’s get together. In the future, I see them creating routes for each other, like we are kind of encouraging our guys to say if somebody came to one of our coastal cities, what route would you map out for them for a great day in the city?  She said kind of like what the bike community is doing already. What are the great bike paths you can go on. We want our wheelchair community to do that for each other. If you visit Chicago and you’ve only got 48 hours, where should I go?  What are the great areas to zip around the city quite easily and go see things?

We see NavAbility being really important for visiting and tourism a couple we also see this as really important to educate our councils. Once we are downloading to smartphones and people opt in to share their data, obviously their privacy is protected, this is where we are saying to councils, now we know are we being inclusive as a city. If we think people are coming into the city or suburbs or using our transport, then why are these numbers not showing up?  That’s what we are able to do. We want to make this activity and event accessible, so how do we know how many people do come in?  How do we know how many people use this service?  How do we know we are doing the right thing?  How do we know if we have replaced different features like stops or accessible toilets or parking?  Are these being used the way we jump them to be used?  If not, let’s question and find out why and what we need to do to improve.

We kind of look at it at a personal level and a group level of sharing data and information about our cities and getting around, and then we look at it at a business level. What are we going to do with cities to improve these things?  NavAbility has those three focuses for us.

WADE WINGLER:  I’m sitting here nodding along and agreeing because I think this is one of the most conference of looks I’ve seen at this issue. Let’s say our listener is somebody who is using a wheelchair and says I’m totally digging this and want to know how I can get my hands on this. Talk to me a little bit about how far along the process or development cycle you are. People are going to want to know where can I get it and how much is it going to cost, when is it available. Set that picture for me if you will.

NATALIE VERNDON:  The actual logger for the cities is available now. The smartphone that we want to give to our wheelchair community is under development now. We are looking at late April, early May, that the app will be available. The NavAbility app will be free. Our idea is the more we download it, the more data we get, the more we can help the community build these maps. We have always committed to making NavAbility free to the pilots. We will always have updates on our website about how we are progressing and how soon. We are fortunate at the moment with our Facebook at the moment, 65 percent of our audience is from the USA. We want to stay tuned towards a Facebook. That would be great for updates. It would be a free app to download. That’s the NavAbility side.

WADE WINGLER:  A quick clarification, right now for the geography, it’s only in Australia?  Or is it independent of the geography at this point?

NATALIE VERNDON:  It’s completely independent of the geography. We will be able to map anywhere in the world. That’s not a problem. What we are very keen to do is involve the community and try to find people who want to manage the projects. The other things in the future we see ourselves doing is we want to visit a city, find somebody who can help project manage it. We look at the areas we want to map, what we want to do, and get those maps going.

WADE WINGLER:  In our preinterview chat, we talked a little bit about the fact that you have something else on the horizon. What is in the crystal ball for BrioMetrix after NavAbility is up and going?

NATALIE VERNDON:  After NavAbility is up and going, what we are doing is our fitness app. In NavAbility, we will have some fitness the data, looking at strokes, distance, time, and speed. Those are the things that are of interest to them. After that what it will do is what we call routed to or version 2 of fitness. That’s when we will look at releasing the wearable tracker. For everybody first will be the smartphone app, and then the wearable tracker.

The difference with the wearable tracker, if you think about it, it’s just how your fit bit is. I wear my Fitbit. The wearable tracker is worn on the wheelchair. That has a lot more of the fitness measures and goes into far more detail about things like we will be able to look at some of the sports moves, spins, details of acceleration, that sort of information. If you’re playing a sport, if you’re really into your fitness and want to get more measures, and that’s what will come with our wearable tracker. The wearable tracker will also include the NavAbility as well.

One further step from there comes our clinical measure. It’s looking at remote recording of health and fitness and wheelchair skills. That’s when the person who is using a wheelchair may be needing to do a check up or want to be involved with clinicians or occupational therapist or physiotherapist, they want to do things like checking the wheelchair fitting, checking suitability of the wheelchair, checking fitness and exercise goals, very much wanted to prevent injury, that’s sort of information the wearable tracker will be able to communicate with their physiotherapist or occupational therapist. It’s literally like they can share their data with their physiotherapist, or when they visit, their physiotherapist will have the wearable tracker and be able to give it to the wheelchair user and actually they will be sharing their data. It’s moving away from tell me about how your day has been to very much let’s share the data you’ve collected and see what your last couple of weeks have been like. Let’s look at if we are putting in too much effort that could be leading toward some shoulder injuries or shoulder fatigue.

They are all a step from each other. They will all be released this year. We are just in that development cycle.

WADE WINGLER:  I have to tell you, I’m excited about the things you are stacking up here and I think it’s going to be impactful in terms of the user community, the pilots that you’re talking about. You mentioned the Facebook page. Are there other ways for people to stay in touch and keep track of what’s happening in term of your developments?

NATALIE VERNDON:  We are looking for people who want to become involved in testing. We are just about to start our second round of testing, so if anyone wants to volunteer to become a wheelchair pilot, they are more than welcome to pop onto our website and sign up. They just have to select sign me up for updates, or just let us know they are interested in being part of the pilot program. They are more than welcome to do that. We’ve done an awful lot of testing with our community so we would love to get involved with our US community. What we will do is keep them using the app until the full smartphone app comes out and we convert to the one when it is commercially released. They are welcome to keep playing with the test app in the meantime. That feedback we love and want.

WADE WINGLER:  Was the website address?

NATALIE VERNDON:  It’s We call it BrioMetrix because “Brio” is about vitality, zest, gusto. Brio is life, fun, enjoyment. Metrix is with the measure side of it.

WADE WINGLER:  Excellent. Natalie Verndon is the cofounder of BrioMetrix and has been talking with us today about their new and emerging technology for tracking wheelchairs, mapping, and all kinds of cool stuff. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your day.

NATALIE VERNDON:  Thank you so much. We are absolutely delighted to talk with you. Thank you so much.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

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