American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Convention 2021      GENERAL SESSIONS

(back) (contents) (next)

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

by José Gaztambide

José GaztambideFrom the Editor: From the manual typewriter to OCR scanning, many innovations that we take for granted originated as developments for blind users. Some exciting new mapping technologies were first conceived as innovations to help blind travelers, but they can benefit the public at large. Like all of the presenters at the NFB National Convention, José Gaztambide was introduced with music. His song was "I'm the Map."

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 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, the way those beliefs guide our work, and the way 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.

Here's a brief introduction to GoodMaps. We were born out of the American Printing House for the Blind [APH], 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 you're attempting to enter. 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 where our mission statement begins: we are out to map the indoors and to make that mapping data available to anybody who needs it.

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. In addition, we're providing an unmatched accuracy that does not burden the building and does not burden the end user with any incremental hardware. There are no beacons or extra devices to purchase. This system 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 belief is that this technology should be free to users. There's no reason you should be paying for data that everybody else gets for 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 we operate is that a rising tide lifts all boats. If you remember 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 not to 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 there is a range of preferences among users. Perhaps you would prefer to navigate with BlindSquare or 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 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 help someone identify where a person or an object is within that map, and then to help them navigate from A to B or make them aware of what's around them. That core technology and those abilities can be used by a multitude of people in a multitude of ways.

This concept allows us to get a yes from a venue that might not have the accessibility budget to invest in making its space more accessible but does have a safety budget or a facilities budget we can use. 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 enter emergency situations, they can be made aware of all of the things that are around them that can help inform the way 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 on their campus. By offering a value proposition that went beyond accessibility and allowed campus safety and allowed facilities to partake in and support the project, we were able to bring accessibility along. That's core to our belief in the way we are building this company. We think of ourselves as a universal navigation provider, enabling safety within spaces.

What can you expect from GoodMaps in the year to come? More and more buildings are coming online every 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. These include the large tech giants that you know and tolerate and the small ones as well, including a lot of the accessibility companies you probably use in your day-to-day life. As I mentioned before, we are a "rising tide lifts all boats" kind of company. We're eager to partner and eager to pool resources to work on our collective missions.

Our navigation app is called 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. Thank you to NFB for the invitation to address the convention and to President Riccobono for all of his support over the past couple of years. Thank you so much!

(back) (contents) (next)