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Blindsquare at Bosma with Jason Bailey & Mendi Evans | www.bosma.org
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JASON BAILY: Hi, this is Jason Baily, the CTO at Bosma Enterprises.
MENDI EVANS: Hi, this is Mendi Evans, assistive technology specialist at Bosma Enterprises, 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 373 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on July 20, 2018.
Today we are going to spend our time talking with Jason Baily and Mendi Evans who are professionals over at Bosma, working on a thing called BlindSquare. Fascinating stuff. We hope you enjoy the interview.
We hope will check out our website at EasterSealsTech.com. Send us a note on Twitter@INDATA Project. Or call our listener line. We love to hear from you. The number 317-721-7124.
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Guys, navigation is important. In fact, I’m going to bet that you probably had to navigate to wherever you are listening to this podcast. It’s just part of being a human being. It’s part of getting places, doing things, and that stuff. When we talk about people who are blind or visually impaired, the navigation issues are there. In fact, sometimes we call it orientation and mobility, and often it’s been my experience that when we are talking about orientation and mobility and navigation for folks who are blind or visually impaired, it’s often a technology enhanced or technology enriched experience, even if it is low-tech. I’m excited I’m going to be joined today by Jason Baily, who was the chief technology officer at Bosma Enterprises, and Mendi Evans, who is an assistive technology specialist at that same organization. We are going to talk about some really cool stuff that Bosma is doing with technology called BlindSquare and their experience with it here in Indianapolis, in fact, and some of the details about that.
If you haven’t heard of Bosma by the way, Bosma Enterprises a partner organization here in central Indianapolis that Easter Seals Crossroads, our organization, works with on a number of initiatives. They provide all kinds of services to the blind and visually impaired community, and they are also the local National Industries for the Blind, or NIB, agency. Enough of my rambling. I’m done now with the introduction. Jason, Mendi, welcome to the show.
MENDI EVANS: Thank you for having us.
JASON BAILY: Thanks, Wade.
WADE WINGLER: I’m super excited to get to talk with you guys. We talk about other things from time to time, but today we are going to focus on BlindSquare is some stuff that you guys are doing. I was over at your place not long ago and was sort of experiencing what it was like to see the system, and I thought we had to get this on the podcast and talk about it a little bit. Before we jump into BlindSquare, I need the audience to know you guys a little bit. Mendi, I’ll ask you the same question in a second, but Jason, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and your role at Bosma?
JASON BAILY: I’ve been at Bosma a little over 15 years. I started as an IT consultant for these guys when they were downtown, 55 employees. We are now expanding quite a bit. We’ve got to locations, a little over 210 employees. I’ve got five people to work underneath me. I’ve been the CTO here now going on five years. It’s been a fantastic ride, and I can’t wait to see what we have in the future for the company.
WADE WINGLER: Excellent. Mendi?
MENDI EVANS: I have been at Bosma for just about 10 years. I started out, Bosma gave me my first job — unfortunately we talk about the unemployment rate among those who are blind or visually impaired. I was there for four years. Thank goodness Bosma gave me my first job, and I’ve been there a few different positions, but I’ve always had an interest in the assistive technology and was helping people with that. Finally, about two years ago, the opportunity opened up under Jason for me to be the assistive technology specialist. I’ve been doing it for the last two years and been having a good time.
WADE WINGLER: Excellent. We are glad you guys are in that role. We always enjoy working with you. Today we are going to focus on this cool thing that you guys are doing. It’s called BlindSquare. I guess my first question is that: what’s BlindSquare?
MENDI EVANS: It is an application. It’s on an iPhone — I guess any iDevice, but an iPhone is best. That way you have a cell conductivity. It is a navigational app. We will get into the specifics of it later, but it works indoors and outdoors, so it helps you to know where various points of interest are. It does it with things on the clock face. You can search for things that are around you based on categories. It’s basically a navigational app that lets you know about your surroundings and a tool that helps you navigate toward whatever it is you are looking for.
WADE WINGLER: The name BlindSquare is reminiscent of Foursquare. Is there a connection?
MENDI EVANS: There is. I know when the app first came out – I can’t even remember how many years ago it was, but it was a while — that was one Foursquare was all the rage. It uses Foursquare’s points of interest to guide users to the locations. Previously you could even shake your phone to check into a foursquare place, because that was the thing. I think it still works with the Swarm app now to check in, but don’t hold me to that. I do know that the two were definitely convicted back one foursquare was when it was.
WADE WINGLER: I remember one Foursquare was popular. I was the mayor of everything. I spent all my time checking in here and there.
Talk to me a little bit about indoor versus outdoor operation. I know that there are GPS signals that work well outdoors, but I know a lot of the navigation tools that are targeted towards people who are blind or visually impaired 10 not to work very well inside. Tell me a little bit about why that is important and what BlindSquare is doing.
MENDI EVANS: With the indoor, we use beacons. Instead of GPS, it’s BPS. Basically what happens is you have beacons basically all of your building, and you program information into them that identifies different rooms, hallways, points of interest. You can put a little bit of information — say, to your right is this, to your left is this, ahead is that. So someone can get an idea of what is around them and what they are headed towards as they walk through the building. It’s reliant on beacons and set of GPS. As you indicated, that’s not going to work inside. The beacons work via Bluetooth.
WADE WINGLER: Help me understand the user experience. I got an iPhone. I’ve got the BlindSquare app installed and turned on?
MENDI EVANS: Yes.
WADE WINGLER: And then I’m wearing a headset? Earphones?
MENDI EVANS: That’s preferable. Some people do not, and then you have a thousand BlindSquares blinking at you and talking to you and it gets real cacophonous. I actually use the aftershocks bone connection headphones because you can hear what is around you. Apple earbuds aren’t too bad. I don’t recommend over the ear, because obviously you can’t hear your surroundings anymore. I had to is definitely recommended — not required, but recommended.
WADE WINGLER: Talk me through the user experience and a day of the life fashion. You hit the front door of the building, you know the BlindSquare is there. What do you do from there, and what is the experience like?
MENDI EVANS: It basically if you have the app open, the beacons should start speaking to you. There are a few things you can do to the app before you get into the building. They recommend you set your compass to true North and set a magnetic north. That’s what it makes a difference in which way your compass is working based on the directions we’ve given it. I would recommend — there is a spot at the top right corner in the app where you can set your distance. I set it as low as possible, because you’re talking about because that are close together in a building. But beyond that, once you have the app up and running, if you have the top end of your phone facing forwards, or the back of it facing the same direction you are, as you are walking and it hits the beacons, it’s going to tell you what you are approaching or what you are near. Then if you know that you want to go to a specific place — let’s say you walk in the front door and it says to the right is the bistro. If you want to go to the bistro, you know to turn right and it will tell you where things are. What I will say is this: is not going to give you turn by turn. It’s not a mapping app. But it will give you indications of what is in your surroundings. It’s a navigational tool.
JASON BAILY: The system itself is not to replace the O&M itself. That’s one of the things from the owner of BlindSquare that he wants to really make sure everyone understands, that it does not replace that. You are using this as an extra guide within those buildings.
WADE WINGLER: So it’s an extra layer of information that you can have as you are walking around and exploring the buildings, right?
JASON BAILY: Absolutely.
MENDI EVANS: Right. When we first moved into this building, it’s a pretty big building. I find that even sometimes there are places that I don’t go very often, so I’ll turn it on so that I know — I have a vague idea of what’s around. I haven’t down there in a month or two. I use it to know that this entrance to this department is this way, or the door is to my left so that I kind of have an idea. I know one employee who hadn’t gone quite the O&M training he wanted. He said, I found my desk because I was using BlindSquare.
WADE WINGLER: That’s fascinating. In terms of the beacons, what kind of information do they have? First of all, is the voice a text-to-speech voice? Is it a recorded voice? What kind of information do you put on a beacon to be announced?
JASON BAILY: All the information is all programmed on the sheets that’s in our set up of our BlindSquare for our building. It’s just going to read to you and the voiceover, or the app itself has its own was over, what we programmed it to say on the Google sheet on the weekend in each direction. You can program it, that if you are approaching the beacon from the north to the south, it’s going to read you one thing, and if you’re going the other direction, you can program it to say something else. Everything is all done based upon that compass itself and how you are approaching that beacon from the left to right or right to left or forward to reverse.
MENDI EVANS: Not to complicate things any further, but I forgot to mention that our indoor set of also has QR codes. We have used those for things such as our vending machines, the old blind a guess and press enter don’t know what’s going to fall out. We have tried our level best to not make that a thing here at Bosma. When you swipe the QR code — and there is a QR code reader built into plans for itself — we have a Google doc that has listed what is on the machine. Or we’ve also put QR codes on some of the artwork to the someone who is blind can walk up to the picture, at the bottom right corner, they can say what is this, so you know what is in the picture. We also have our offices with QR codes. It was in the office number, the person who is it, and their title.
WADE WINGLER: In your bistro example earlier, you can do the menu or today special once you do a QR code, right?
JASON BAILY: Yes. There is a gesture with the actual app itself. You can tell it to shake for more information, then you are shaking your device. In our bistro, once you enter, it says you’ve entered the bistro, shake for more information. You shake your device, and it will actually read to you what the daily special is.
WADE WINGLER: Nice.
MENDI EVANS: We also do a QR code on the bottom of a TV that displays our menu. At the bottom right corner of the TV, I put a QR code that will let you get to the menu that is going across the TV.
JASON BAILY: One of the biggest QR codes that we as an organization looked at is the restrooms. We have QR coded restrooms. We have the complete layout of each of the restrooms from the QR code to say the toilets are on the left, there are two stalls, the sinks are on the right, and where the hand sanitizer is and paper towel dispensers. You name it, it’s reading to you exactly what that orientation of the restroom is through that QR code.
WADE WINGLER: Quick silly question. What is the special today in the bistro?
MENDI EVANS: It is beef Manhattan and a drink for six dollars.
WADE WINGLER: And how is it?
MENDI EVANS: I have to be honest, I did not eat it today. It smelled really delicious.
JASON BAILY: It did smell very good.
WADE WINGLER: That’s a dangerous question, right?
JASON BAILY: The worst part is breakfast every morning because they cook tons of bacon. The entire office smells like bacon. That’s the one that is so hard to stay way from.
WADE WINGLER: That’s torture and beautiful all at the same time. That’s funny. A lightbulb came off for me when we were talking about the navigation and compass. If you are just using GPS or beacons, you are limited mostly to North, South, East, West navigation. But knowing if you are putting something from the North or South or East or West or right and left, that gets you back to left right navigation which was much more meaningful, right?
MENDI EVANS: Mhmm.
WADE WINGLER: That was a lightbulb for me which I thought was interesting.
MENDI EVANS: We have programmed — and we are not going to say, to the east is such and such. We know that you are walking — for us, we had to program it as North. But we know that to the right is going to be this and to the left is going to be that. You don’t have to be a compass genius to be able to navigate the building. We wouldn’t do that to you. Nevermind blinds for itself doesn’t do that. When you put in a point of interest, and you track it, they’ll say it’s this many feet away and where it is on the clock face, as opposed to the compass direction.
WADE WINGLER: Nice. Let’s get into some of the technical details. I got a bunch of questions about this. The first one was about the app. It’s iOS only. Is it Android also?
MENDI EVANS: Right now it is iOS only.
JASON BAILY: They are working on the Android side. They have been working in a for a little bit and still don’t have an ETA on it. I think they are having problems with that. We are still told that they are working on it.
WADE WINGLER: The next question is, in terms of utilization on the phone, how is your battery life? Does it tend to suck down the battery life?
MENDI EVANS: It does. They tell you. Even when you get BlindSquare, they’ll tell you this is going to drain your battery. I’ll tell you, if your phone is below 50 percent, you pull the thing up, it’ll tell you your phone is below 50 percent. You kind of know I might want to limit my or use of this thing. If you’re going to be a heavy user of it, you probably want to know that you have an outlet or invest in one of those lovely portable battery packs that you have nowadays.
WADE WINGLER: Absolutely. On the technical side, in terms of setup and installation from the facility level, getting the beacons installed, better life on the beacons will be another question, and what does it look like to set up and install the beacons? The internal navigation piece?
JASON BAILY: We’ll start with the beacons themselves. There are a couple of different types of beacons. There are just regular beacons that you would hang throughout the facility that has a clip on the back that you can screw into the drywall or screw into a concrete wall or anything like that. Basically attach the beacon. The beacon itself is about two and half by two and half and maybe an inch thick. It’s fairly small. You would rarely see it hanging around or come and go, well, there is something hanging on the wall. There are some other beacons that are what they call tough beacons. Those tough beacons are really for warehouse models or outdoor use. We have them at our front entrance, so it’s outside. We also have them attached to all of our fork trucks, anything that is moving, golf carts, things like that around our facility, so if someone that was blind or visually impaired were using the app and wandered out into our warehouse, and there was a fork truck approaching, it would create a sound that we have programmed that sounds like a horn honking —
MENDI EVANS: It sounds like a car coming.
JASON BAILY: Yeah, a car coming. It basically tells you a fork truck is coming. It lets you know that you need to stop right where you are at and make sure that you are clear, and then you can move on from there. Mendi said earlier, we have a fairly good sized building. Our corporate office is about 170,000 square feet. We are sitting somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 to 60 beacons throughout the facility. That includes on fork trucks and other moving devices. Our install four hours took roughly a week, maybe a week and a half by the time it was said and done. When we got ours, we first started talking to the people that were doing it. We were looking to be one of the first in the US. We ended up being the third in the US to actually have it done.
Since our install a little over a year ago, we have actually become a partner and reseller of the actual products. It’s been a really good partnership. These guys know the product inside and out, so we had the at our fingertips to the we can call those guys at anytime and say, hey, we are running into this scenario or this possible scenario, and they are going to help us walk through that. They are using us as a sounding board also because some of the QR codes that they’ve never even thought of using in that scenario, they are starting to look at also.
For install, depending on the office size and square footage of the office, depending on how many beacons, we can probably get it for as low as 5 to 6000 up to some of the bigger buildings like ours, somewhere in that $20-$25,000 range. It’s not that expensive of a solution for an office considering what you’re getting out of the actual product.
WADE WINGLER: What about the cost to the user who is actually using the BlindSquare app? Is there a cost to the user?
MENDI EVANS: That depends. If you are just interested in using it at the facility that is a BlindSquare enabled event, you can get a free version of the app called BlindSquare event. That would work within the building itself. However, if you want to use all the bells and whistles, the outdoor navigation, you would actually have to buy the paid app. It’s price is always a moving target because the company is based outside of the US. At last check, I think was about $40. It’s a one-time payment.
WADE WINGLER: What about training to learn to use the app? Is that a steep learning curve, or is it quick and easy?
MENDI EVANS: I always hate this question because I picked up on it pretty quickly, but I feel like I’m very well versed with my iPhone. That said, if you are comfortable with voiceover navigation and those types of things, I don’t think it’s a very steep learning curve. There are some things that — they have a pretty decent help manual that you can learn some things. For those who want it, there are voice commands options and that type of thing. I don’t think it’s a steep learning curve. There are some things to learn and tinker with and figure out what preferences you want. You have a wonderful of information coming at you if you don’t learn what the filters do and which ones to turn off and on. For example, they had different points of interest categories like arts and entertainment, education, food, etc. If you know that you are only looking for restaurants, you can turn off everything else and only have the food places announce to you. There is some of that learning and figure out the stuff, but honestly I don’t feel like the app is terrible hard to learn. There are buttons are clearly labeled and so on, so I feel like it is something that, if you spend a few minutes with it, you can figure it out.
JASON BAILY: As part of our implementation, if you were to do a facility for someone, we always include training for the end-users and then train the trainer kind of thing, get somebody to where they are up to speed on how to adjust those Google sheets. After we leave the install, we don’t want to be one of those sites or a consultant per se where you have to call me, you need to come through us to do all your updates. We want to be able to train the company or business to be able to actually take over on that install and teach them what they need to do and be able to be self-sufficient after we leave the install.
WADE WINGLER: Excellent. We are getting a little close on time, but I have more questions I just had to get out. I’m going to give you trouble question here. Something that’s great about it? Something that needs to improve about it? And something you wish everybody understood about it that they don’t often?
MENDI EVANS: What’s great about it is just the idea that you can program, or that tells you about your surroundings. So if you are in an unfamiliar place, they can bring some familiarity to it because you’re not at a disadvantage just because you can’t see signage. What’s not so great about it is if Bluetooth is being flaky that day, or now and then it will repeat things a bunch of time. I’m like, Seriously? Please stop. But honestly the benefits outweigh that. What I wish everyone knew about it is something we covered, but I think it bears repeating. It is a navigational tool and does not replace a mobility. It is not going to be your companion to walk you through the building. It is simply there to assist you and be more information as you navigate the building.
WADE WINGLER: As I think about footprint for this kind of a technology, obviously in an office such as yours where there are a lot of users, it totally makes sense. I also think I want to see this in museums and libraries have public buildings of those kinds of things. What is your prediction for adoption of this technology in more places, whether they are businesses or public places?
JASON BAILY: Talking with the people from BlindSquare, they are in the middle of doing resume installs around the US. Once it kind of got to the states, it’s just kind of taken off. I know there have been several airports done. The Indianapolis airport is one is currently done now with the actual BlindSquare app, not the BlindSquare event. Is that correct, Mendi?
MENDI EVANS: Actually, I think you can use the BlindSquare event at the airport. It turns it into a full-blown version for a week.
WADE WINGLER: Cool.
JASON BAILY: And then they are doing museums. One of the other things that they are getting into is the city of Boston, they are doing their transit system. They have summerlike 600,000 beacons around the city of Boston. They have them on the actual buses and different things like that. You can sit at a bus stop in the web as you are on and be able to pull up an app almost like Uber and know exactly where your bus is and how much longer it will be before your stop. The technology is there, it’s coming. It’s just a matter of the city is kind of adopting it where the funding is going to come from on that level.
Our goal as Bosma and me getting to be an implement or and reseller is to try to get as many places in the city of Indianapolis, businesses, malls and things like that, that would connect to get into to help the folks that are in Indy navigate the city and be able to do pretty much anything that someone that is cited can do.
WADE WINGLER: We are out of time for the interview today, but before we finish up, if people wanted to reach out to you guys and learn more about BlindSquare or Bosma or those kinds of things, what kind of contact information would you like to provide?
JASON BAILY: You can always visit us at www.bosma.org. If you have an email questions, you could definitely do that. We have an email group set up for Mendi and I. It’s email@example.com. She and I will get that. If you guys have any questions or want a quote on your facility, we would definitely be happy to do that. We just in a copy of a floorplan. You can always reach Jason Baily at 317-684-0600 OrMendi Evans at that same number.
WADE WINGLER: Jason Baily is the chief technology officer at Bosma Enterprises, and Mendi Evans is an AT specialist. Jason, Mendi, thank you so much for being with us today.
JASON BAILY: Thanks, Wade.
MENDI EVANS: Thanks for having us, and we look forward to hearing from anyone who wants to know more about BlindSquare and Bosma.
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 www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find other shows like this, plus much more, at AccessibilityChannel.com. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easter Seals Crossroads, or any of our supporting partners. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.
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