GTT Victoria: Report on Trekker Breeze on BC Transit Busses, December 21, 2016

December 21, 2016

Two: Get Together with Technology (GTT) Victoria Members
RE: Victoria Regional Transit Street Announcements System, Trekker Breeze

We are very pleased to advise that the BC Transit Commission has approved an automatic vehicle locater system for the capital regional district fleet. This new system, once installed will allow BC Transit to implement accessible stop announcement systems that we have discussed in the briefing note you’ve seen earlier this fall. Christy Ridout, Director, Corporate and Strategic Planning for BC Transit has sent a note to us concerning it. We have had a recent discussion with her checking that we’re on the same page, which we appear to be. We’re meeting with her early in January, and we have offered the assistance of our membership as the process unfolds, which she was quite pleased to accept. Please see the full text of that email message below.

The new system will be implemented in Victoria, Kelowna, Kamloops, Nanaimo and the Comox Valley over the next 18 months, with the Request for Proposals being readied for Mid-January 2017. See the links at the bottom of this note to a couple of Times Colonist articles on the matter.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Have a wonderful Christmas holiday season, and a very safe, happy, healthy and successful New Year. We will continue to report progress as it unfolds.

Greg Koyl and Albert Ruel

From: Ridout, Christy
Date: December 16, 2016 at 4:14:09 PM PST
Subject: Letter regarding Trekker Breeze and Automatic Voice Annunciators
Dear Mr. Koyl and Mr. Ruel,

Your letter to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission was provided to me as the representative of BC Transit’s SmartBus Program.

Thank you for taking the time to reach out to discuss the future of BC Transit’s existing automatic voice annunciator system, Trekker Breeze. Your timing is excellent, given the Commission just recently approved a memorandum of understanding to move to a real-time technology solution for the fleet.

Under BC Transit’s new SmartBus program, Victoria’s conventional fleet of buses will be equipped with automatic vehicle locators by 2018. This technology, which is linked to schedules, will enable real-time tracking of buses in operation. Customers will be able to determine the expected arrival or departure time of their bus from a their selected stop either via BC Transit’s website, a mobile app, or passenger information displays at major locations. The technology will also enable next-stop announcements that are linked to bus stops, not just cross-roads as the Trekker device does now. As a result, the Trekker device will be removed when the real-time technology is installed. Although subject to negotiations with the preferred vendor through a competitive process, it is our desire to also equip all buses with passenger information displays so that upcoming bus stops are not only announced, but textually displayed for customers inside the bus.

While the existing voice annunciation system has assisted us in meeting an immediate need within our transit system, we are confident that our upcoming real-time technology will further enhance our services and better meet the needs of individuals with accessibility challenges.

Please let me know if you have any further questions about this project and I’d be happy to discuss further.

Best regards,

Christy Ridout
Director, Corporate and Strategic Planning

*Note: To read a couple of articles covering this event please access the below links:

Times Colonist Editorial, December 15, 2016:

Times Colonist Article, December 14, 2016:

Next GTT Ottawa Meeting Monday October 17 2016 all about GPS.

Our next Ottawa evening GTT meeting will take place on Monday October 17 from 6-8 PM at 20 James street.
Our topic is GPS solutions.
There are so many apps and solutions that people can use for GPS. What are the best apps and solutions? We will talk about several. If you have one that you particularly use or you use a stand alone device and wish to demonstrate that, contact Kim ahead of time at 613-567-0311
Or email gttprogram@gmail.com

GTT national Conference Call Notes for December 9 2015 on GPS Solutions for people who are blind or have low vision. 

Summary Notes
 

GTT National Conference Call

Get Together with Technology

December 9 2015. 

GPS Solutions 
 

 

Presenters: 

 Tom Dekker Donna Hudon Albert Ruel (facilitator and presenter),

 

 

1. Blind Square GPS App:
Tom started out the presentation on BlindSquare. Blind square has its own voice, and works well with Voice over as well. The buttons and tabs you will find on the app include:

Search, Add Place, Tools, 4Square, Other Button and Filter Announcements. 

Tom reviewed the options available in the Filter Announcements and recommends the use of Streets and My Places. That will announce all streets as they are crossed and the locations you have favorited. 

2-finger double tab turns on and off the Blind Square voice, and a 3-finger double tap turns on and off the Voiceover voice. The Blind Square voice mute is at the top right corner of the screen and is a toggle meaning that if you double tap it once, it mutes speech and if you double tap with one finger again, it unmutes speech.  

Add Places: allows the operator to add Points of Interest by categories, address and while one is standing near it. 

Tools: the Look Around is a valuable feature in the Tools Tab and will announce intersections and Points of interest in the area and in the direction the operator is pointing the iPhone. Limits can be set for the range within which Blind Square will announce what it finds. 

Search: uses a variety of categories from which to suggest places one might be interested in, and once located the operator can double tap the Favourite toggle and have Blind Square announce each time it gets within range of the device. When a location is selected more info can be read for that place or business. 

Blind Square does not give you turn by turn directions. The Tracking feature can be invoked which will tell the operator how far away and at which direction the specified location will be found. Blind square can be asked for nearby addresses to that location as well. Check it out at:

http://blindsquare.com/

 

Q: Can plan a route be used if a location is not favourited?

A: Yes. As long as you can select it you can start to track toward it. Addresses can be taken from the iPhones’ Contact List and tracked from there as well. 

Q: Does it only give directions by the clock or compass? 

A: You can set it to give direction using Cardinal Directions as well. 

Q: Does it matter which direction you hold the phone?

A: Just having the phone in your pocket it will determine your direction of travel. Some bone conducting headphones will allow you to operate the app using the in-line buttons. Pointing the phone in various directions will allow you to determinpoints of interest (POIs) and other info in that direction. Also, shaking the phone will invoke the Look Around feature providing next intersection and travel direction info. Lots of features can be turned on or off in the Other Button menu. 

Q: If I were walking to a corner in my City will Blind Square tell me about the building and the businesses therein? 

A: Not yet, however Apple has available something called iBeacons that will provide access to interior spaces. Tim Horton’s in Ontario has started a pilot project of making iBeacons in some of their stores. 

As you walk along the street, Blind Square will announce the stores or buildings you pass in many cases. Sometimes they even announce bus stops if they have been marked by someone. 

Irene indicated that she uses blind square when riding her horse. She sets up Way-Tags in the Add Places Tab for places like the mailbox, ditches and so on. Blind square then warns her as she approaches them allowing her the time to steer the horse around them without injuring her shins. 

Tom indicated that BlindSquare is the app that has helped him to learn the Victoria downtown area since moving there about 2 years ago. 

 

 

2. Trekker Breeze Stand-alone GPS Device:
Donna started out the demo on the Trekker Breeze by turning on the Key Describer feature, hold down the button 3, so that each time a button is pressed Trekker will announce what each key will do. The new Breeze is smaller than the original. There are 9 buttons in a number keypad configuration. 

 

Trekker will announce how far you’ve travelled, your altitude and many other helpful bits of info. Trekker can also reverse routes once you have reached your destination, and addresses can be inserted for turn by turn instructions to your favourite places. Points of interest in many categories can also be used to receive turn by turn instructions, and landmarks can be set and labelled as Points of interest along the way. It ships with all Canadian maps, and additional world maps can be purchased for trips abroad. 

 

The Explorer feature allows the user to virtually walk a neighbourhood anywhere on the installed maps from the comfort of their living room. 

 

Note: that blind squarevery has a simulation mode which allows you to find out what is around a location you may be travelling too. 

Kim used this when travelling to the braille conference in Toronto to find out what was around the hotel.  

Donna offered to take questions rather than work through each item that can be done with the Trekker. A question was asked about the battery, which is thought to be about 15 hours of constant use. The Trekker shifts from vehicle mode to pedestrian mode automatically, and offers different levels of info depending on those modes. More intersection info is available in pedestrian mode. 

 

Donna reiterated that because Trekker is separate from her phone she finds it more convenient. 

 

Addresses can be typed in with the number keypad, and landmarks can be marked for future use, like garbage cans, park benches etc.   

 

Donna indicated that her recent upgrade didn’t seem to add functionality, and others indicated that the battery life is since increased as a result. James indicated that his works better in the downtown concrete canyons, and Donna hasn’t found that to be the case with her upgraded Trekker. The old Trekker Breeze often lost contact with satellites, which was to be remedied with the 2015 $200 upgrade. It was suggested that the Trekker be turned on a few minutes before leaving so that connection can be secured before the trip begins. Trekker seems to connect better than trying it once movement has started. 

 

Maps are upgraded on regular bases so new places of business and new neighbourhoods become available quite quickly. Map updates are free. 

 

Trekker gives intersection info like, 3-way, 4-way and 5-way intersections, city boundaries for larger metropolitan areas, and name changes of streets as one travels by vehicle or pedestrian. Without inserting an address one can merely walk while Trekker announces the streets as they are approached. It will also announce your points of interest as you pass them, which offers a means of familiarizing oneself with a community. 

 

An external speaker is available that clips to a collar so that it can be heard without blocking ones ears for safety. Bone conducting headphones can also be attached to this device for the same reason.

Note: You cannot use the bluetooth bone conduction head phones with the trekker. You must get wired headphones for this.

The bluetooth bone conduction headphones will work with blind square. 

The most common bone conduction headphones are made by afshokz. 

Many of the access technology companies in Canada sell them but they can also be purchased on amazon and now even in the apple store online.  

 

For more info check out:

http://www.humanware.com/en-usa/products/blindness/talking_gps

 

 

3. iMove GPS App:
A question was asked about iMove by Everywhere Technologies, an app for the iPhone which seems to be free, and available for iPhone, iPad and iPod. You can learn more at:

http://www.everywaretechnologies.com/apps/imove

 

 

4. Seeing Eye GPS App:
Albert then gave an overview of the Sendero Seeing Eye GPS app for the iPhone. It is currently being used as a subscription app that appears to fetch a price of $79 USD for an additional year, and $6.99 for additional months. Albert indicated that it cannot be purchased outright, which has since been determined to be incorrect. The outright purchase of the app is $399 USD. A similar app is available for the BrailleNote and BrrailleSense note takers. 

 

The main front screen offers many helpful items like the nearest intersection, nearest address, direction of travel, location accuracy and altitude. The menus are, Routes, POIs, Location, Maps and Settings. Other than the Maps Menu all are very accessible. Maps takes you to Google maps which appears to require vision to use effectively.

Note: You can use google maps but it does take some learning. Kim is able to use it on the iphone after much practice. If anyone wants some help with it, let her know. 

 

 

The Look Around Wand in Seeing Eye is very similar to that which Tom demonstrated with Blind Square. It allows you to see in different directions all that is in your vicinity. I have also purchased a $5 Sendero app called Look Around that will give me that info by merely shaking the phone. 

 

The Route Creation Menu offers several ways to get to where I want to go. The first is a Route to Home button which will give me turn by turn instructions back to the address I’ve labelled as “Home”. The POI Button will offer many categories of businesses, schools, churches and other types of places I might wish to find and be directed to. The Address Button allows me to insert any address and have Seeing Eye take me there. The History Button takes the user back to previously accessed addresses or Points of Interest.  

 

The POI Menu allows me to type the name of a business I want, and Seeing Eye will search for and list the findings from my area. Double tapping on the desired one provides the options of being directed as a pedestrian, driver, transit user or bicyclist. 

 

One of the drawbacks to the app is how quickly it drains the battery. For daily use of this app to get to and from work one will be wise to secure an additional battery pack. Albert has noticed that Blind Square uses less battery power than Seeing Eye. 

 

For more info check out:

https://www.senderogroup.com/products/shopseeingeyegps.htm

 

A question was asked as to whether Blind Square and Seeing Eye would be used together, and which might be preferred. They are not used together and they don’t necessarily do the same things. Granted, all three GPS devices presented today will tell you where you are and they will announce streets as you travel, however Blind Square doesn’t give turn by turn instructions and both Trekker and Seeing Eye do. All three use POIs as a means of locating and alerting the user to their having arrived. 

 

What’s the difference between the free Sendero Look Around and the Seeing Eye app? The Look Around app merely gives the user nearby intersection, POI and address locations, whereas Seeing Eye will guide the user to selected locations with turn by turn instructions. I also use the Seeing Eye to keep an eye on the driver’s speed of travel, altitude and direction of travel while on route. 

 

5. Nearby Explorer for Android Smart Phones:
A question was asked about accessible GPS apps for Android. There is one called Nearby Explorer which was produced by the American Printing House for the Blind. 

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.aph.avigenie&hl=en

 

A question was asked about the data usage for these iPhone apps. Lorne Webber indicated that Seeing Eye uses data to load the map when a search for an address is done, and that no further data will be used once the map is loaded. If another search is conducted then it will access data once again. No firm answer was available regarding Blind Square and data usage though, however it isn’t believed to be large as no pictures or other large items are being accessed by the apps. Donna indicated that Sendero Look Around requires data in order to function. 

 

6. MyWay Lite and Classic:
Another app mentioned is My Way Lite, which is free, and My Way Classic which costs about $20. They both use data in order to download the maps to your iPhone, then don’t require data to do the actual navigation. 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/myway-lite/id494516234?mt=8

 

Irene indicated that with the screen locked she uses Blind Square with little in the way of battery drainage and hardly any data provided the wayfinding tags are saved. Data will be required for the saving of any additional wayfinding tags though. 

 

7. Kapten Plus GPS and App:
Irene asked about the Kapten Plus GPS device. Leader Dogs in Michigan used to provide these devices for their graduates, however they have since stopped doing so. She used it for about 4 years and found that it worked fairly well, however that it didn’t give her as much info as Blind Square or Trekker. Irene further suggested that the Kapten Plus app for the iPhone was impossible for her to manage so she is recommending that it be avoided. It is available through Canadialog:

http://www.canadialog.com/en/node/250

 

8. Ariadne GPS App:
Donna mentioned Ariadne GPS which she also uses on her iPhone. It can be found at:

https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/ariadne-gps/id441063072?mt=8

 

9. Google and Apple Map Apps for the iPhone:
Lorne suggested that Google Maps when he’s travelling with a sighted driver offers him good info regarding the lane to be in when accessing needed off-ramps. Although blind travelers don’t always need such info, it can be helpful when he’s navigating for the driver, and his experience is that it’s very accessible with Voice Over. Apple Maps are also good, however Lorne prefers Google Maps. 

10. Bad Elf GPS Antenna:
Lorne further suggested that separate GPS antenna can be purchased for use with iPhone GPS apps. One such example is the Bad Elf GPS Antenna. Visit http://www.bad-elf.com to learn more about the Bad Elf GPS, GPS Pro/Pro+, and the GNSS Surveyor accessories, which add a high performance GPS receiver to the iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad via the 30-pin dock connector, Lighting connector, or Bluetooth. The GPS data is usable by ALL location-based iOS applications in the App Store. 

 

 

If anyone has any more GPS solutions for people who are blind or have low vision, please let us know at 

Gttprogram@gmail.com 

Or call Kim at 1-877-304-0968 X. 513. 

Or Albert at 1-877-304-0968 X. 550. 

GTT Toronto Meeting notes all about GPs Solutions.

GTT Toronto 

Meeting #3, November 19, 2015. 

GPS solutions: Brian Moore  

 

Brian began by noting that conventional GPS tools omit critical information for those with vision loss – names of intersections, passing points of interest, etc. – so he would not focus on these devices/systems, except insofar as they interface with systems specifically designed for the blind.  As such, there are really only a couple of options remaining in the marketplace.

Trekker Breeze is a dedicated *single function), hand-held device designed for use by the vision impaired.  It has no screen (the user interface is audio).  It has raised buttons.  It has limited route planning capability, allows you to mark points of interest, and will indicate streets as you come to them.

 

The other major class of GPS systems is smart-phone based, both for i-phone and android.  In Brian’s opinion, the accessibility features on android phones are not quite as good as those for i-phone.  He will focus on, and demonstrate an IOS-based app called ‘Blind Square’, designed for blind and partially sighted users.

Some general notes on pricing:  I-phones, tablets, etc are relatively expensive but are multi-purpose tools combining many different functions.  Once past the initial hurdle of buying the hardware, many of the applications are free or very inexpensive.  Blind Square currently retails online for about CAD$39. 

The Breeze stand-alone GPS retails for about $800.

Q: are there android options?

A: Brian uses a free public transport app, available for both android and IOS, called ‘Transit’ to find out when the next bus or streetcar is coming to a stop location.  Google maps is also available for android, and is particularly good for planning a route or finding a location you haven’t been to before.  There may soon be an android version of Blind Square but, on a recent check of the Blind Square website, there was no indication of this. 

 

Aside from the Breeze, there are a couple of other stand-alone GPS units, some with built-in DAISy players and other functions but, in Brian’s view, many of these have problems with satellite signal acquisition, or more complicated interfaces, etc.

 

Demonstrating GPS devices from inside a building is challenging.  But there are many u-tube videos available on using GPS devices.  Blind Square has a number of excellent demonstration videos in real-world situations on its website at www.blindsquare.com 

 

Comment from participant:  There is an upgrade available now for the Trekker Breeze which costs about $200 but which significantly improves the functionality of the unit.

Q: Is there a difference in the level of accuracy between the Breeze and a phone-based system?

A: Although satellites are more accurate, the practical limit of all GPS systems is to within 10 metres.  This means you might use your GPS device to check your location and be told the address across the street.   

Q: Can I use voice commands to pick a destination and get walking directions?

A: Yes, using Apple Maps, a function that is built in to I-phones.  But Apple Maps presumes you can see where you are.  You can check your location from time to time, but Apple Maps will not automatically tell you when you’re crossing an intersection or passing a point of interest, as Blind Square will.

 

Brian demonstrated the Blind Square app (selecting a pre-programmed address because the phone was not picking up satellite signal indoors).  Locations can be logged as “Favorites”, to make them easy to find again.  “Start Tracking” gives compass directions, in clock face or degrees, as you start moving toward your destination.  Because Brian has an Uber (taxi alternative) app on his phone, Blind Square can tell how quickly a car could pick him up and roughly what the cost of the fair would be.  “Share This Place” allows you to send the destination as a link on Google Maps, to someone else via email.  

“Plan a Route”, when activated, will ask what app you’d like to use, listing as options any route-planning app installed on the phone.  One option is Navigon North America.  This app costs about $80 but, unlike most apps, allows you to download maps and routes and work offline.  This means that if you can’t get a data signal, or want to avoid expensive roaming charges, you can still find your destination.

From within Blind Square, Brian selects Google Maps to plan his route and can get step-by-step instructions on how to get there, including cues about current location, nearby intersections, points of interest, etc.

 

If planning a route via transit, Brian uses Google Maps on its own without Blind Square, as Google Maps is very accessible using the most current version of Voice Over.   Past versions of Voice Over have not worked as well.  Double tap the Google Maps icon, select travel mode (driving, transit, walking or bicycling) and then input the destination.  You can set parameters on your trip, allowing you to travel at a different time of day, or on a date in the future, etc.  But for travel directions right now, you can skip the parameters and just press “Start navigation”, and begin your trip.  If you swipe to the right and double tap, it will give you spoken step-by-step instructions.  

Although you can plan a route using Blind Square, Blind Square  does not do the actual route planning.  It feeds your destination and current location to another route-planning app, like Google maps or Apple maps, which does the route planning.  As well, Blind Square does not give ‘turn-by-turn’ directions.

  Q: If I don’t have a street address, can I use an intersection as my destination?

A: Yes.  Intersections, landmarks, and other kinds of locations can be used as destinations.  Even subway stations should be available as destinations.  As well, Google Maps will allow you to save histories of places you have been and will “make suggestions” about similar places.  Google Maps will also scan content in your g-mail inbox and suggest directions on how to get to a location listed there. 

 

Toronto transit information can come from a number of different sources.  The

Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has a text service tied to the four- or five-digit number codes which identify  every bus stop and subway platform.  If you text the number code to “TEXT TTC” (416-839-8882 the service will text you back with the times the next 3 buses or trains will arrive at that stop.

As these are just text messages, you don’t need to use any data. You can save this number in your contacts instead of having to decode the name each time you want the number.

 

Other public transit apps include “Pocket Rocket”, “Rocket man”, and “Next Bus”.  Each of these have slightly different features and interfaces, so it’s a matter of personal preference which one to use.