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ATU556 – Foresight Augmented Reality with Chris Webb and Tanner Gers

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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.

Special Guests:

Tanner Gers – Director of Business Development

Chris Webb – CEO ,Co-Founder and Head Engineer

 

Website: https://www.foresightar.com

Foresight Augmented Reality in the Inclusive Design Challenge:

https://idc.foresightar.com/

 

Find out more and register for ATIA here: www.atia.org

 

INDATA Full Day Training: Job Accommodation Bootcamp

Registration and more information: https://bit.ly/3qBRBXc

Info on all of our Full Day Trainings: https://bit.ly/3472bK7
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—— Transcript Starts Here —–

Chris Webb:
Hi, this is Chris Webb and I’m the CEO of Foresight Augmented Reality.

Tanner Gers:
And this is Tanner Gers. I’m Director of Business Development for Foresight Augmented Reality.

Chris Webb:
And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to 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 individuals with disabilities and special needs.

Josh Anderson:
I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 556 of Assistive Technology Update, it’s scheduled to be released on January 21st, 2022.

Josh Anderson:
On today’s show, we are super excited to have Chris Webb and Tanner Gers on from Foresight Augmented Reality, to talk about their technology and how it can help individuals with visual impairments in a myriad of ways, as well as businesses, self-driving cars. And well, you know what? I’ll just wait and let them tell you all about it.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners, please don’t forget if you ever have a question for us, a comment, or perhaps a suggestion for someone we should have on the show, do not hesitate to reach out. You can email us at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org. Call our listener line at (317) 721-7124, or hit us up on Twitter @INDATAproject. We always welcome your feedback. And I must admit, some of our best guests come from your suggestions. So keep them coming folks, we always love to get them. As always, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to listen to us. And now, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
As I’ve told you before, one of my favorite events of the year is the ATIA annual conference. Every year I look forward to meeting with a global community of folks who use assistive technology to enhance their lives, or the lives of their families, friends, students, or clients. I’m especially excited about ATIA this year, because it’s going to be held back in-person in Orlando. That’s right, ATIA is coming back to the Caribe Royale in Orlando, Florida on January 26th through the 29th of 2022. The team has put some exceptional safety measures in place to ensure that it’s a safe gathering for all. ATIA is all about broadening our AT community of consumers, families, practitioners, and professionals, so that we can collectively increase awareness and build knowledge on how to best implement and access assistive technology.

Josh Anderson:
The conferences focus on vision and hearing technologies, communication technologies, technologies to access your world, or succeed in educational settings or workplace settings. It’s sure to offer something for everyone. This event is for everyone to learn about how technology can impact the lives of others, or our own.

Josh Anderson:
And if you can’t make it to Orlando in January, which who wouldn’t want to go to Orlando in January, but ATIA has got you covered with a virtual event happening January 27th and 28th with over 100 sessions recorded and available until late April. I will be attending the event virtually this year, and I really hope to see all of you there. You can learn more and register by visiting atia.org. Again, that’s atia.org. I hope to see many of you at ATIA this January.

Josh Anderson:
We, at INDATA, are very excited to announce that our next full day training will be coming up on Thursday, February 17th from 9:00 AM till 2:00 PM Eastern. This online training is called Job Accomodation Bootcamp, and we will have some great presentations about reasonable accommodations, a panel discussion with different consumers talking about their experiences with job accommodations. And then I’ll be talking in the afternoon about the whole job accommodation process, hiccups and glitches, things that can go wrong, as well as showing some examples of some different job accommodations. So if you ever want to learn a little bit more about the ADA, what reasonable accommodations might be, and the whole job accommodation process as a whole, please join us for our next full day training online on February 17th from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. I’ll put a link down in the show notes so that you can register. And I look forward to seeing you, at least virtually, there.

Josh Anderson:
Maybe you’re looking for some new podcast to listen to, well, make sure to check out our sister podcast, Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ or Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions. If you’re super busy and don’t have time to listen to a full podcast, be sure to check out Accessibility Minute, our one-minute long podcast that gives you just a little taste of something assistive technology based so that you’re able to get your assistive technology fix without taking up the whole day. Hosted by Tracy Castillo, this show comes out weekly. Our other show is Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, or ATFAQ. On Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, Brian Norton leads our panel of, mm, experts, including myself, Belva Smith, and our own Tracy Castillo, as we try to answer your assistive technology questions.

Josh Anderson:
This show does rely on you, so we’re always looking for new questions, comments, or even your answers on assistive technology questions. So remember, if you’re looking for more assistive technology podcast to check out, you can check out our sister shows, Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ, wherever you get your podcast now, including Spotify and Amazon Music.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners on this show, we talk a lot about how technology can assist individuals with disabilities. And well, hopefully you found a least some knowledge that can assist you or someone that you know. What we don’t talk about as much is how that technology can also benefit businesses and others by making their goods and services more accessible to the folks who really actually want to use them.

Josh Anderson:
Well, our guests today are Tanner Gers and Chris Webb from Foresight Augmented Reality. And they’re here to tell us about their technology and how it can be beneficial to both the individuals that use it and the businesses that want to attract those customers.

Josh Anderson:
Chris, Tanner, welcome to the show.

Tanner Gers:
Hey Josh, thanks for having us.

Chris Webb:
Hi, thank you for having us.

Josh Anderson:
Guys, I’m really excited to get in and start talking about this technology. But before we do that, could you tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Chris Webb:
Sure. My name is Chris Webb and I have a telecom background and been an engineer for 30 years. And our co-founder, who’s not here with us today, has retinitis pigmentosa and has been going blind for the last 25, 30 years. And I’ve known him that entire time. And that got me involved in creating technology to assist those with visual impairments.

Tanner Gers:
Yeah.

Tanner Gers:
And this is Tanner. I am actually totally blind myself, I was in a bad car accident as an adult. And now run sales for Foresight Augmented Reality.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome guys. Well, it sounds like you had definitely the right motivations in getting involved in everything and kind of some experience, not just with the technology, but with what was actually needed.

Josh Anderson:
So let’s start off with kind of the big question, what is Foresight Augmented Reality?

Tanner Gers:
Yeah, that’s a great question. So Foresight Augmented Reality is, we augment the reality, the physical accessibility with digital accessibility solutions. So Foresight Augmented Reality creates these digital solutions to create a seamless experience across indoor, outdoor, public signage, public transportation, and now autonomous vehicle accessibility. And we do this through a digitally accessible WCAG compliant interface or mobile app, so that this seamless environment, from your home to your work and back and forth, is that a user has a continuously accessible experience and is more confident to navigate and mobilize themselves through space.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Excellent.

Josh Anderson:
And Chris, you talked about this a little bit, but could you elaborate on why this was started and when?

Chris Webb:
Yeah, absolutely. So, our co-founder with me, David Furukawa, I’ve known him since college and he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa while he was about to start med school. And he decided to become a PA. And over the years, I’ve seen him lose his eyesight and lose his ability to get around and know what’s around him. And a number of years ago, he was walking his son to school with his service dog and somebody ran a stop sign and hit Dave. And was about to hit the son, and the service dog, Simon, pushed his son out of the way. Unfortunately, Simon was hit, hobbled home and died. And I was speaking with Dave in the hospital, because he had a bunch of broken bones, telling him, “I can’t help somebody running a stop sign, but I can certainly help create technology that can give you an idea of what is around you.”

Chris Webb:
So sitting in the hospital, we came up with the idea of giving a voice, an audio augmented reality to the physical world. So, when you’re somewhere, you can get an audio description of where you are and how to get to where you want to go. And that’s kind of how we got started and it just progressed from there into different things. And here we are talking autonomous vehicles now, so it’s been a great journey.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, yeah. I’m sure that it has. And I’m glad you said that because I got to admit, a lot of folks whenever they hear augmented reality, you think of kind of visual. A lot of folks just think of something where something kind of shows up in the real world and you can see it, maybe interact with it. So I’m glad you really talked about having the voice and that little bit kind of extra to augment your reality and help everything out.

Josh Anderson:
Well, guys, I want to dig a little deeper into each part of the things that you do. So let’s start off by talking about the app that Foresight Augmented Reality has, describe that to me.

Chris Webb:
So, our FAR Vision app, we utilize that to interact with our current technology, which is utilizing Bluetooth beacons. And it does a lot of things. So if you’re in a building, for example some courthouses that we’re in, or restaurants, it will give you a description of the environment. It will read any kind of signage so we can do digital accessible signage. It will tell you how to get where you’re going. We’re not doing point to point navigation because indoors that is just…. Really, it’s been a challenge for people, and it hasn’t really been a big thing. But we like to help you create your own mental map of an interior of a building so that when you’re in that building again, you don’t necessarily become reliant just on technology. So we’re providing you an audio description of what’s around you through our app.

Chris Webb:
As well as we interact with transportation systems that we’ve partnered with to help you locate the bus stop you’re going to and get you much closer to it than GPS just by utilizing our app. And our app, as you’re traveling on those buses, if they don’t have audio announcements, can tell you what stop is upcoming, how far away it is, and then what the next stop is. So you know where you are at all times providing, obviously, a big safety issue, making sure you get off at the right stop without having to try to figure out where you’ve been and what’s coming up.

Tanner Gers:
Yeah. And the audio augmentation is similar, so the users can understand. It’s similar to directions or information that you would get from an orientation and mobility instructor, right? So, it might say, “Hey, the bathroom hallway’s on the right. And then when you enter that bathroom hallway, the first door on the left is the women’s restroom. The second door on the left is the men’s restroom. And there’s a water fountain in between”, to give you an idea of what the audio information might look like.

Josh Anderson:
No, that’s great. Because I know navigation indoors has always been kind of, I guess, the stopping point. GPS can get you pretty close, general kind of area.

Josh Anderson:
And I’m glad you guys brought up the bus system, that’s a great thing. Before I did this job, I was a job coach. And sometimes, one of the skills I had to help people learn was how to take the bus to work. And yeah, you’re right, unless you’re timing it, or doing some other things, sometimes GPS can do a little bit of it, but actually knowing which stop’s coming up and how far you’re going is just, oh, a huge thing, especially because a lot of folks maybe aren’t even accustomed to really riding the bus. So that’s a big step in and of itself. So then having that little bit of extra can really make a difference.

Chris Webb:
Well, it’s great. And these transportation systems are starting to come on board and realize they need to be more accessible for those with visual impairments. And by the end of February, we’ll be deployed on probably around 400 plus bus stops around the country and we’re adding more every month. So, it’s going to be really great.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. No, that’s really great.

Josh Anderson:
I want to talk a little bit more about the beacons because I know that these are a great advantage for the individual using the app to get this information. But what kind of information can be put on these, maybe from like a business standpoint?

Tanner Gers:
Well, yeah, the beacons are really just the transmitters of information. And so that information is stored and housed online in our database, which is one of the real unique differentiators between us and some different type of indoor, outdoor and other environment systems, orientation systems, or way finding systems is that the world’s changing. And when our database allows facilities, restaurants, public transportation systems, anybody that’s using the technology to update that information as things are happening in real time. So if the construction happens, or a door moves, or… One of my first jobs, when I was blind, was in a call center and they would rearrange the walls and the doors all the time and you would have to relearn that environment.

Tanner Gers:
And so, if there was something that was more like a Lidar system per se, you wouldn’t be able to adapt to those kinds of changes in real time. Whereas, you can just type the information in that you want to be communicated on the backend. And just like that, a restaurant, or business, or municipality can give accessible information to all their visitors in just a couple of keystrokes.

Josh Anderson:
I know that you can kind of have that information as you’re maybe kind of in a business of where things are, maybe the menus, some kind of changing things. Would this also work, let’s say that I’ve got my app over and I’m using it and I’m walking by a business. Would it pick up their beacon? Could they tell me… I think of the information that you normally put up on placards in the windows, maybe not taking walk-ins today, or 10% off sale today, or something like that? Could that information be relayed to me as I’m passing or whenever I become close?

Chris Webb:
Absolutely. It’s very much works that way. And we do have businesses and restaurants that have beacons in their front windows so that when you’re walking through, for example Decatur, Georgia, we have a bunch of restaurants and businesses with the beacon in the front, it will tell you exactly what you’re passing as you’re going by. If those business choose to put something on there that says they have a special today or whatever, they can announce that sort of thing. So it does work that way. We utilize our Bluetooth beacons for that.

Chris Webb:
In the future, we’ll be able to do even more stuff. We’re creating some ultra-wideband technology as well, which will bring in even more features.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, that’ll be awesome. See, you already stole my what’s coming next thing, but that’s okay. We’ll get back to that. We’ll get back to that here in a little bit.

Josh Anderson:
Now, you mentioned the self-driving cars and some work that you guys are doing with those, tell me about that.

Chris Webb:
Yeah. So the department of transportation, the U.S Department of Transportation has a program called the Inclusive Design Challenge running currently. And the Inclusive Design Challenge revolves around making autonomous vehicles accessible, not just for visual impairments, for any disability. So they took applications for ideas on how to make these vehicles accessible from the ground up so that you’re not trying to retrofit something that’s already been in development and running for 10 years. And we put a proposal forward to make these vehicles accessible for the visually impaired, the elderly, those with some cognitive disabilities. And we were chosen as one of the 10 semifinalists in this competition, given a prize money to develop our concept. So that kind of brought us into autonomous vehicles and we are now competing for another prize and to be able to develop our technology and get it, hopefully, embedded into all upcoming autonomous vehicles.

Josh Anderson:
That’ll be great. I’m glad you mentioned even folks who might be a little bit older and maybe scared of technology or folks with cognitive impairments. Because yeah, I know the information that could be relayed would be, oh, not just helpful, but maybe also a little bit calming whenever you’re technically having a car drive itself for you.

Chris Webb:
Absolutely.

Tanner Gers:
[crosstalk 00:17:03].

Chris Webb:
Go ahead, Tanner.

Tanner Gers:
Yeah, I was going to say is that you think about people with mobility impairments plus cognitive impairments, our elderly population, or even someone with multiple sclerosis, if they’re in a crowded environment or it’s a busy environment, they have to have the right information to get them to the right vehicle as soon as possible. They don’t have the physical endurance or capabilities to be trekking back and forth. And then if it’s an elderly person, they could get disoriented on top of that. So having audio guidance, visual guidance, and just that assurance that they’re going to the direction or they’re going to the place that they’re intending to, is pretty fulfilling.

Josh Anderson:
No, it definitely is. And we’ve had some other folks kind of involved in that challenge as well on the show, and it is just great that they’re thinking to build this stuff in at the beginning. That seems to be… Well, at least in the past, that’s always been the exact opposite of what normally happens. You try to make things work and then try to make it work for all. So I’m glad that the U.S. Department of Transportation and folks that are going to be making these autonomous vehicles are kind of getting this in their head that, “Hey, if we make this more accessible for all, not only will more people use it, which is just good business, but I mean just, like you said, you’re touching those populations that otherwise this would be completely inaccessible.

Tanner Gers:
Another thing that I’m really passionate about is that Uber and Lyft, these ride share services, have really opened up opportunities for people with disabilities, specifically those who are blind or visually impaired, to better manage their healthcare, to better manage childcare or child extracurricular activities, employment opportunities, educational opportunities. And as the world works, right, a capitalistic society, which we’re very much a part of and supportive of, is that we’re going to cut costs, and that’s going to start with those drivers. And before we know it, autonomous vehicles are going to be the only choice. And so if that happens and we don’t bridge the gaps of inequity and accessibility and usability, then those opportunities of employment, education, healthcare, childcare, all of those are going to be cut off. And so we’ve got to get this going for all those reasons mentioned.

Josh Anderson:
Definitely could not have said that any better at all.

Josh Anderson:
Webb, I’m sure you’ve probably got quite a few of these, but could you tell me a couple of stories about how Foresight Augmented Reality has been able to help maybe an individual or even maybe how it’s maybe assisted a business with making their selves more inclusive?

Chris Webb:
Yeah, I have a couple of examples. Well, one example I’ll provide is the city of Decatur in Atlanta, Georgia. They’ve got our beacons installed in their City Hall, their rec centers, their court house. And it has allowed the visually impaired community in that neighborhood to actually go to these buildings and get around themselves. There’s a subway station actually right in the heart of Decatur and a lot of visually impaired people, you’ll see them coming in and out of there. We have our technology in the courtyard right outside the subway station, and people can utilize that to get from the subway station accurately to the courthouse and then find the tax assessor’s office, or whatever they’re looking for inside the courthouse. Or in the gym, we have beacons around the gym that mark where the different workout equipment is, which rooms are which. So, it’s made a big impact there.

Chris Webb:
Another example that I give you that was kind of unique, there’s a cruise line, Norwegian cruise line, and when we were initially developing this, this is where we did one of our initial tests to see if this was going to be a viable, useful feature. And we deployed probably about a 100 beacons on the Norwegian Pearl for five cruises and judged kind of the feedback of… over those five cruises, they had, I think, 15 or 17 visually impaired users. And we got some feedback from those users to see how it worked. And one of them, he was telling us that he left his cabin by himself and he walked around the cruise ship for something like 16 hours going to different events all by himself without having to ask anybody where he was or where he was going. And we thought that was really a great demonstration that this is really helpful.

Josh Anderson:
That’s really great. And yeah, that’s something I never even thought about cruises and just how much of a challenge that might be for an individual, the visual impairment. So that is really amazing. I’m sure this will just open up the doors for so many things. And when you mentioned the city, the courthouse and the city buildings, so many of us have to access those in some way, shape or form at some time, and that’s not always the information that you want someone else reading for you, or someone else having to assist you with. They’re always big buildings. They’re old, they’re very large and there’s a whole lot of offices. So yeah, just having that information is so powerful, and they’re just so important to the independence of being able of those things by themselves.

Chris Webb:
Absolutely. And the city of Decatur, Georgia has been on the forefront of accessibility. They’re very interested in making sure their community is very inclusive and equitable.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. And those are things that’ll hopefully stay no matter who ends up in the office around there. So that’s always a good thing also.

Josh Anderson:
You guys touched on this just a little bit, but I always do have to ask, what does the future hold?

Tanner Gers:
Exciting things. With autonomous vehicles, that’s the future. It’s now smart cities getting some… With our ultra-wideband beacon technology, we’re going to be doing some phenomenal things with regards to safety and smart cities, for example chirping and cuckooing would be a thing in the past where we can help people who are blind or visually impaired safely get across the street, understanding where vehicles are in a relationship to them, making sure that they’re inside the crosswalks safely as they’re getting across, crossing when it’s the right time. This new ultra-wideband technology is going to be game changing for smart cities, autonomous vehicles in inclusion with regards to physical accessibility and safety.

Chris Webb:
And the ultra-wideband technology differs from our Bluetooth technology. The ultra-wideband technology allows us to pinpoint somebody’s distance from one of our ultra-wideband tags down to about 10 centimeters, and we can also get the direction of that so we can utilize it for all kinds of stuff, like we’re talking about with the autonomous vehicles, locating a vehicle, getting to it securely, making sure you’re at the proper vehicle. But as Tanner’s mentioning, we can pinpoint somebody, where they are as they walk across a crosswalk in a street. So the ultra-wideband technology is going to be really phenomenal, and I think game changing for people with disabilities.

Josh Anderson:
Definitely. Well, we cannot wait to see it.

Josh Anderson:
Well, Chris, Tanner, if our listeners want to find out more about Foresight AR, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Chris Webb:
We’ve got two websites they can go to. The first website has a blog that’s related to our Inclusive Design Challenge project, which keeps track of what we’re doing, and has links to videos and podcasts. That website is http://idc.foresightar.com, and foresight spelled F-O-R-E-S-I-G-H-T ar.com. And then we have our main website, which is www.foresightar.com.

Tanner Gers:
Yeah. And if anybody wants to see exactly what us, the other semifinalists companies like Waymo, were doing on January 26th, we’ll be presenting a 10-minute presentation on our solution, exactly what we’re going to be doing, and everything like that. So we can put on our website, on the idc.foresightar, that’s iclusivedesignchallenge.foresightar.com. We can have a link right to register for that Zoom presentation on January 26th. If anybody has trouble finding that or spelling that out, if you just Google search Inclusive Design Challenge, there’s links to us, the semifinalists, and all of our websites right there as well.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We’ll put both those down in the show notes as well, so that folks can easily get to them.

Josh Anderson:
Well, Chris, Tanner, thank you guys so much for coming on today and telling us all the amazing things that Foresight Augmented Reality has and can really offer to really just open up the world to individuals. And again, not just for them, but also for the businesses, the community, and the people actually want to use these different devices to get that information out to everyone.

Chris Webb:
Well, thank you for having us. We really appreciate it. And we love spreading the word about what we’re doing and love spreading the word about the Inclusive Design Challenge and the great technology that’s going to bring across the board.

Tanner Gers:
Yeah, Josh, this is a lot of fun. Thank you.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on an assistive technology update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject. Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation, or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com.

Josh Anderson:
A special thanks to Nicole Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule.

Josh Anderson:
Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guest are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners, or this host.

Josh Anderson:
This was your Assistive Technology Update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time.

Josh Anderson:
Bye-bye.

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