Braille Monitor                  August/September 2021

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Innovating Mapping Technology: A Mission Built on the Experience of the Blind

by Jose Gaztambide

Jose GaztambideFrom the Editor: Like all of the presenters, Jose was introduced with music, and his song was “I'm the Map." Here is the tremendous message he brings about real, life-changing technology, not just for the blind but for everyone and with the added advantage that this is another innovation created by and because of blind people. Here is what he says about the mission of his company and the tremendous advances in travel and safety it portends:

Thank you so much, President Riccobono. I had heard stories of the intro music, but I had no idea what to expect. But oh, what an entrance.

Thank you so much for having me. This, as President Riccobono mentioned, is my first time addressing the convention, and it's a real honor and a real thrill to be here with you guys.

This is likely your first time hearing about GoodMaps and hearing my name. I'm going to start today off by giving you a brief introduction about us and what we do in our work day-to-day. I then want to tell you a little bit about our beliefs and the way that those beliefs guide our work and the way that we're building our company and partnering with companies throughout the world. Finally, I want to give you a sense of what to expect over the next year between this convention and next convention. What can you expect out of GoodMaps? I'm excited to let you know what the future holds.

A brief introduction to GoodMaps: We were born out of the American Printing House for the Blind, and we are really the spiritual successor to the indoor navigation work that APH pioneered for so many years. APH decided to carve that work out of the technology product research team and make it a truly dedicated effort as an external organization.

One of the very first things we realized both as part of APH's experience and the feedback that we heard from other friends in the field was that the real bottleneck to accessible navigation and to making it possible for you to navigate with confidence and independence any venue you enter is not any particular application. It is actually the existence of indoor mapping data. Your navigation journey ends when you get to the door of the building that you're attempting to enter. The reason for that is because, even though we have mapped the outdoor world many times over, we've barely begun the process of mapping the indoor world. That's really where our mission statement begins: we are out to map the indoors and to make that mapping data available to anybody who needs it.

So whether you're entering your local grocery store, your shopping mall, your airport, or your place of work, we believe that everyone should have the tools to navigate with independence and confidence. We are using today's technology, which includes LiDAR [light detection and ranging], augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and particle filtering to drastically increase the number of mapped buildings in this country and throughout the world. But in addition to that, we're doing so, providing an unmatched accuracy that does not burden the building and does not burden the end user with any incremental hardware. There's no beacons or no extra devices to purchase. This works on your smartphone, whether you're an iOS user or an Android user. We think that's a critical component to equity and to making sure that everybody has access to what we're building.

Let me get down to some of our beliefs because I think these are really important in terms of what you can expect from us and the kind of company that we're trying to build. The very first one is that this should be free to users. There's no reason that you should be paying for data that everybody else gets free. Our commitment to our users is that we will never charge the end user for access to this technology. We don't think that's ethical or right.

The second belief that's really core to the way that we operate is that a rising tide lifts all boats. So if you remember as I was talking about the genesis of GoodMaps and how we started to focus on mapping the indoors, we came to the realization that the indoors has effectively not been mapped, so we set about solving that issue; how do we map the indoors?

If we're successful in mapping the indoors, then it is irresponsible and in fact immoral for us to not share that data with all of the other accessible navigation apps and providers that are out there. We have developed a particular experience that we are proud of and that is data driven, but we know that there is a range of preferences among users and that you perhaps would prefer to navigate with BlindSquare or prefer to navigate with Right Hear instead of GoodMaps. We think that's okay.

One of our commitments and one of our priorities is to make our mapping data available to any accessible navigation company free of charge. We think that's an important part of making sure that this technology can find its way into your hands in whatever way it is that you choose to engage in it.

Finally, we think it is really important to offer services beyond accessibility that embed accessibility. What does that mean? When we think about the core technology that we offer, it is the mapping data, it is the ability to identify where a person or an object is within that map and then to help navigate them from A to B or make them aware of what's around them. That core technology and those abilities that I just described can be used by a multitude of people in a multitude of ways. What that does is allow us to get a yes from a venue who might not have the accessibility budget to invest in making its space more accessible but does have a safety budget or does have a facilities budget we can use. But to make that really concrete, we're working with the University of Massachusetts Boston, which is going to be the very first user of what we are calling GoodMaps Response. GoodMaps Response is a mapping service that is specifically focused on first responders and emergency personnel so that as they're entering emergency situations, they can be made aware of all of the things that are around them that can help inform the way that they respond to that situation.

When we first approached UMass Boston, there was no accessibility budget, despite the fact that they really wanted to incorporate this kind of technology within its campus. But by offering a value proposition that went beyond accessibility and allowed campus safety and allowed facilities to partake in the project and to support the project, we were able to bring accessibility along. That's really core to our belief in the way that we are building this company. We think of ourselves as a universal navigation provider in enabling safety within spaces.

What can you expect from GoodMaps in the year to come? We have more and more buildings coming online every single week including the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind, which we're extremely proud of and which will be online in the coming weeks. We also have a range of really exciting partnerships that we'll be able to announce over the coming weeks and months with a range of companies, the large tech giants that you know and tolerate and the small ones as well, a lot of the accessibility companies that you probably use in your day-to-day life. As I mentioned before, we are a rising tide lifts all boats kind of company, so we're eager to partner and eager to pool resources to work on our collective missions.

Finally, our navigation app—GoodMaps Explorer—we continue to develop and roll out new features every week and every month to make navigation easier, more intuitive, and more accessible for everybody.

Please give us a follow on social media, join us at GoodMaps.com, and join our mailing list so you can stay up to date. I want to thank all of you for your time, to NFB for the invitation to address the convention, and President Riccobono for the invitation and all of his support over the last couple of years. Thank you so much.

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