“It’s like Google Maps, but for the inside.”
That’s how Senior Lecturer in accounting Anna Wright describes her new free app, BanjoMaps.
BanjoMaps (beacon assisted navigation journey and orientation) is an app-based navigation system that’s been developed for the vision-impaired, but can be used by anyone. This month, UTS students will be testing a beta version on campus. The data they collect, in addition to improving future iterations of BanjoMaps, will be used in a research project Wright is running with her colleagues at the university.
So, how does BanjoMaps work? Wright explains: “You open up your BanjoMaps app and say, 'I need to find the information desk ' or 'the exit' or 'the ladies toilets ' and then Siri will lead you through the internal space to where it is you want to go.”
While the beta version is only available in English and will focus on finding bathrooms, exits and information centres, Wright says, “Long term, absolutely, it will be in every language we can possibly think of”.
Wright admits the idea for the app has been percolating for a while. Twenty years ago, she was diagnosed with an eye condition that leads to vision loss. It made her think, “What am I going to do? How am I going to be able to work? How am I going to get around? How will I get my kids to school? How I am ever going to find a public toilet in a public shopping centre?
“Imagine the lack of dignity you’d experience trying to feel your way around to find the lifts or the bathroom. It’s ridiculous!
“In our visual world we don't even think about that – we can see where the lift call mechanism is. We know how to operate it. We’re just not very aware of what the world might be like for someone with a visual impairment.”
Last year, serendipity intervened. In October, Wright, who also works in private practice, was chatting with a client who specialises in augmented and virtual reality. They told her about beacons – small devices that send signals to a user’s phone giving accurate, real-time, location-based information.
That same month, Australian start-up and innovation group BlueChilli launched SheStarts. SheStarts is a national accelerator program (for which UTS is the educational partner) that gives 10 female entrepreneurs $100,000 seed capital and support to launch their own start-ups. Wright applied and eventually become one of the top 10.
The beta testing of BanjoMaps is the most recent step in Wright’s SheStarts journey. By the beginning of May, each of the top 10 need to have developed a “minimal viable product so we can show people how it works,” she explains. In August, participants will be able to apply for a second round of funding. And, “hopefully by then we will have the commercially viable product”.
Wright is adamant that BanjoMaps is just the beginning. But, to find out what her future innovations entail, we’ll just have to wait and see (or hear).
To find out more about BanjoMaps and its beta testing, email Anna.Wright@uts.edu.au