BlindSquare and GPS App Questions and Answers
Here is a series of questions from an Orientation and Mobility Specialist regarding BlindSquare. Hopefully these questions and answers will provide a bit of information you were curious about yourself…
1. “How do you pre-plan a route prior to going to the drop off? (I used simulate this location but I had trouble with it giving me the steps on how to locate the store from the bus drop-off).”
Okay, this first answer may be a bit long as it will likely cover things that will be coming up in other questions as well, so please bear with me. First thing to remember, and to relay to the student, is an understanding of what each app can and cannot do so that there is a reasonable expectation for the app and the activity. BlindSquare cannot give you turn by turn directions in and of itself; so planning a route from within BlindSquare is limited to things like putting in the address or searching for the location, reviewing the information page, “simulating the location”, and using “look around”. This is really an auditory version of dropping “the little guy” in the desktop version of Google Maps to a specific place and looking around to see what’s there; except, in BlindSquare you cannot move around, you can only point your phone in various directions to see what is nearby. There are other apps and programs that will let you do that, such as PC Maps that is available from American Printing House for the Blind (APH) or Sendero Group.
One of the ways to pre-plan the route is to find the place you want in either a search by category or just entering the name or address of the place you would like. Once the places information page is reached from the search, you can select “Plan A Route”. BlindSquare will give you options of third party apps that have been installed on the device that it can open in order to plan the route such as Apple Maps, Google Maps, Navigon, etc. For this instance we’ll say you select Apple Maps and that a pedestrian route will be used. Once BlindSquare opens Maps, the starting and ending points will already have been inserted into Maps for you by BlindSquare (you could also use a simulated location and create a route from your simluated location to the searched destination). From the initial screen of Maps, make sure you are on pedestrian mode (rather than vehicle or transit) and then choose start from the bottom of the screen. This will launch walking directions which you can then have an overview of. For voiceover use, choose the “list steps” button (looks like three horizontal lines at the bottom of the screen) rather than “Overview”, as overview is a visual map of the route. In list steps, you can read or flick through each step to here the route described. A similar process works in Google Maps to preview or pre-plan your route.
One of the nice features of BlindSquare is the ability to set directional style to whichever style the student prefers; Cardinal Directions, Clock-Face, Degrees, and Relative Directions are choices. So, as an example, you could simulate the location of a bus stop, intersection, or nearby landmark and then (while in Simulation mode choose “Look Around” or “Around Me” ) you could get information about the direction and distance to travel from the landmark to reach your destination. This would be especially helpful when crossing large open areas, such as parking lots, college campuses, etc. Again, remembering that BlindSquare by itself is not designed to give turn by turn navigation is very important.
2. “What is the best way to locate a specific bus stop on BlindSquare when planning a route? Can you use bus ID? I have found a handful that work this way.”
(This answer is specific to Austin, TX and Capital Metro; other areas use somewhat different ways of identifying bus stop locations. )
On the home page of the BlindSquare app, the very last category on the screen is Travel and Transport. Choosing this item will bring up a list of nearby bus stops and other transportation landmarks; if you are near a Greyhound station or train station, it will likely show that as well. You can choose from the list if you know your Bus Stop Identification Number or it may be shown by a name such as N. Lamar Transit Center. Scrolling down the page a bit further you will see a list of subcategories and one of the categories is Bus Stops. This option will give you a refined list that is more specific to what you are looking for. Thinking about where BlindSquare gets its data from, it is important to remember that the naming of these landmarks or Points of Interest (POI’s) comes from an outside source. Whatever that POI was named as by the original Foursquare user is what will be displayed. For the most part, the names are sufficient and consistent as users want the POI to be useable information; but, sometimes you get only partial or somewhat quirky naming. There are ways to request edits to the POI information but that requires a Foursquare account to be able to provide feedback to the keepers of the database.
Other ways to get bus stop location information include: searching for a bus stop identification number, using a third party app such as Capital Metro’s route planning app to find the stop identification number and then adding it as a “favorite” to BlindSquare so it will show up in the My Places screen and can be tracked, or navigated to as it is then a known location. One additional strategy is to be in simulation mode, as if you were at your destination or end of your bus route, and use the look around feature to hear what bus stops are nearby. They can then be added as favorites from within simulation mode so you will already have them on the device. The accuracy of the GPS signal will vary, but if all conditions are good, you could have accuracy within 16 feet to find the correct pole or bus shelter. This 16 foot bubble can really narrow down the hunting options when looking for a lone bus pole along a street.
3. “When I use track route Blind Square frequently let’s me know the distance from my location but it doesn’t tell you which ways to turn on the route. When I use plan route, I feel it doesn’t give you enough information during the route. Is it possible to use both at the same time?”
Very good question. Tracking BlindSquare is actually keeping track of your selected point(s) of interest. It will continue updating you on the distance and direction of your “tracked” POI. If the distance is getting smaller you are on the right track and if it is getting larger, you are getting farther from your target. It is like a hot and cold game. BlindSquare, and GPS in general, does not know that you cannot travel “as the crow flies”, is not aware of construction along the sidewalk, the building between you and the target, etc. You as the traveler must problem solve the walkable routes to reach the target; all BlindSquare in and of itself can tell you is how far and in what general direction to head toward. This style of navigation is the only option when you are off the street grid. If you are on a street grid than you can use “Plan a Route” to launch a third party app (e.g. Maps or Google Maps) to provide turn by turn directions.
It is possible to continue receiving the tracking information from BlindSquare the entire length of the route, so that you are receiving the turn by turn prompts from the map app as well as the tracking distance and direction from BlindSquare. In the Settings menu of BlindSquare there is an option for “Track destination automatically along entire route”. When this is selected, you will receiving ongoing updates about your tracked POI (i.e. your destination); when it is off, you will only get the tracking information when you are within 150 meters (about 500 feet) from your destination. An important element to keep in mind is how much information you and your student can process, and how much skill there is at selectively filtering information. You could easily have three or more voices speaking from the device simultaneously; BlindSquare has its own voice selection, as does VoiceOver, and the spoken prompts from the third party map app. It could sound like the cockpit of a WWII bomber with the pilot, copilot, and navigator all speaking simultaneously. One way to address this is to have some fun with the activity so the pressure and stress can be low, but also selecting unique voices. For instance, you might select a male voice for BlindSquare and a female voice for VoiceOver so that discerning who to focus attention on at any given moment can be a bit easier.
4. “What are the pros and cons of using Google maps vs. Apple maps with Blind Square? I feel like Google maps does a better job?”
Both are very useful, but like most things in life this is an area where people have unique preferences. To get an easy one out of the way, at the moment Google offers much greater levels of transit information as Apple Maps is only supporting a handful of cities. So, presently for most areas of the world, if you want transit you will be using Google Maps. For pedestrian routes, there are different ways that information can be viewed and previewed in both apps. There are different ways to request directions to be repeated and different distance thresholds the apps will deliver the next instruction at. Matching what works best for the student is ultimately what “does a better job”. Both apps are regularly updated so revisiting their pros and cons on a regular basis is a helpful strategy. Having a student practice with both to see how easily they can navigate is a good gauge of where to focus your efforts.
5. “When you save a bus ID, will other Blind Square users be able to access this information?”
When you save Points of Interest (POI’s), they go into the My Places screen but they do not propagate to other users unless you share them yourself. In order for “everyone” to have access to it, the POI would need to be created in Foursquare; additionally the developer of BlindSquare has set the app to only allow POI’s from Foursquare that have been “checked into” by at least five other people. He did this to reduce extraneous or fake POI’s from being reported. So, if you wanted to create a POI for a new bus stop, you could open a Foursquare account and create the POI. You would then need to coax four friends with Foursquare accounts to “check in” there as well. This happens rather quickly with places like Starbucks and even well frequented bus stops, but to make it happen quickly for other locations that are not frequented by the general public as often, the above steps would need to occur.
However, with the updates that have been added to BlindSquare, you can now go to any particular point of interest’s page on BlindSquare and there is a button to share your POI (visually this looks like a box with an arrow coming out of it, on the right side of the screen). So in this circumstance, you could create the bus stop POI, and or open its place page from My Places, and then by choosing the share icon you the options to E-mail, text, Air Drop, export to an application, send as a Tweet, or several other options for sharing the POI. You can in effect provide your whole caseload with an importable list of landmarks/POI’s that you would like them to have as a base set they can then add to.
6. “Is there a way to use Capital Metro app or Transit app with BlindSquare?”
At one time, the Transit app did work with BlindSquare but presently it is no longer one of the third party apps that BlindSquare can tie into. The developer can only use apps that allow access to their API or code so that the information can be interpreted correctly. All features can change in the blink of an eye in today’s world, but as of this writing, this list of third party navigation apps represents the only ones BlindSquare supports: TomTom, Sygic, GPS 2 Navigation, Waze, MotionX-GPS, MotionX-GPS Drive, MotionX-GPS HD, Google Maps, and Apple Maps.