How we give you the right directions when you need them

Two blind women walking amongst fresh fruit at a market. One woman is using a cane, wearing a light blue shirt, with dark hair and a black skirt. The other women is a little younger with curly, flowing blonde hair. She is walking with her guide dog and looking down at her phone using the BindiMaps app.

One thing that makes BindiMaps so powerful for our users with vision impairment is the years we have spent developing our Navigation Language Framework (NLF)– the rules and systems we use for issuing spoken directions to users. 

That’s why we’re so happy to have recently released a new version of our NLF that dramatically improves our directions, making them smarter, friendlier and easier to follow.

But why is a Navigation Language Framework so important? 

That’s because our localisation and navigation algorithms update the user’s position and their optimum route every second. There is no way our users want or need that constant stream of information and navigation guidance. It would be totally overwhelming, and even if we wanted to serve them all to a user, the audio read-out of one direction wouldn’t be finished before it was time to read out the next one. 

So we have to choose, from that firehose of information, which updates we want, VoiceOver or TalkBack (the two main voice-to-text systems in smartphones) to read out. 

Our choices here are critical.

As you might guess, people with vision impairment rely on their hearing a lot. They are processing auditory information at an amazing pace, getting a feel for what’s around them, plus anything likely to be dangerous.

Some even use echo-location to provide more specific information about obstacles in their paths. 

So if we want to take up some of that auditory time and attention, we need to make sure that we are giving the right amount of information at the right time and that we’re not providing too much data that might take up more than our fair share of auditory attention. 

Up until now, we’ve given the user an updated navigation direction on a timer basis. So every five seconds (by default), we’ve updated the navigation guidance and read it out. 

This has worked very well for us up until now, and many of our users welcomed the reliable five-second cadence of knowing where they are and what’s next on their journey. 

But feedback from users (including our own Cass Embling, our Customer Success Manager) convinced us we could, and should, do better. 


Creating a better world for people with a vision impairment

Regular navigation updates based on a timer are reliable and inspire confidence, but they have their drawbacks.

After a while, timed updates can fade to the background of a user’s audio input, and that critical indication that a turn is needed can be missed. 

Fast walkers can go a fair way in five seconds, so their direction change might pass them by as they blast past. And there is just the feeling that many of the updates are telling our users what they already know and would be unnecessary in a perfect world. 

Well, that’s what we’re here for: to shoot for a world that’s a little more perfect for people with a vision impairment. 

So we’ve done away with the timers. Now, BindiMaps will update your navigation guidance when you need it and only when you need it. 

Select a destination in one of our supported locations, and immediately we’ll give you a general overview of: 

  • How far away your destination is and which direction it’s in “as the crow flies.”
  • Some information on the first steps you need to take to get underway. 

Then, we switch into navigation mode. 

If you’re going in the right direction, and nothing is coming up that you need to know about, BindiMaps won’t bother you. 

But if you go off course, that’s when our NLF will tell the app to pipe up. We’ll guide you slightly left or slightly right to get you back on track, and then we’ll leave you to it. 

If there’s a turn coming up, we’ll let you know, and then, at the right time, we’ll guide you through it, with an increased number of directions until you’ve safely made the turn. 

If you’re getting close to your destination, we’ll let you know that too, so you know to “ease up” and be alert for the end of your journey. And then we’ll let you know where to expect your destination, for example, whether it’s on your right or left. 

Our intrepid group of testers have told us that the result is a navigation system that’s much more intuitive, much more friendly and much more useful. 

We have some ideas for improving our NLF even more, but our testers are saying that this latest update is a big improvement. 

They’re getting the navigation information they really need when they need it. And the world is just a little bit more perfect. 

We hope you get the chance to try it out soon and let us know what you think.

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