London-based Waymap aims to help visually impaired people navigate their environment, and it starts with public transport. The company has just completed a closed two-week trial of its navigation app at three stops on the Washington, DC metro, and hopes to start a public trial at 25 subway stations and 1,000 bus stops by September, according to Waymap.
“What we learned from our trial is that this is so important for blind people because if you lose your sight, you lose the freedom to explore,” Waymap’s CEO and founder Tom Pey, who founded the company after he turned 39 age lost his eyesight old, Vidak For Congress told.
“The ordinary blind person regularly uses about 2.5 routes. And that means they can go to the supermarket and to the pharmacy. And the reason for that is the amount of information that you have to remember when you lose your eyesight, and to put all that in your head is pretty hard and it’s also hard to keep yourself safe with your primary mobility. So what we’re doing is replacing human memory and giving the person access to infinite memory in terms of routing, and that then allows him, with his mobility skills, to go anywhere.”
Going everywhere is, of course, the long-term goal as the business scales, but for the short-term, Waymap starts with public transportation before spreading to places like museums, hotels, hospitals, or other public buildings. The company has tried its technology around the world, but Washington, DC will be the first whole city to deploy the app.
The Waymap app provides users with free audio step-by-step instructions, with an accuracy of 3 feet. And Waymap really means it when it says “step-by-step” because the startup doesn’t use GPS to track users; it uses the sensors of a smartphone’s inertial measurement unit — magnetometers, accelerometers, and barometers — to get data such as how fast a person is walking, how their gait is, whether they are going up or down stairs. This data is then fed into Waymap’s proprietary algorithm, which relies on Bayesian statistics to squeeze out 5,000 possible positions where a user might be based on their next step and work out where, based on probability, they are likely to be located. That algorithm runs in conjunction with Waymap’s “map matching” algorithm to provide users with exact instructions.
Someone using the app might hear something like:
“Turn to 10 o’clock and then go four steps forward. Turn to 2 hours before the zebra crossing. Straight ahead after the zebra crossing. Turn in 10 steps to 1 hour for the path. Turn to 1 o’clock in nine steps. Follow the path…”
For its most recent trial in DC, Waymap had its 15 visually impaired users, seven sighted users and three orientation and mobility instructors attach their phones to belt holsters.
“Our algorithm records the kinetic energy you use to walk, and that allows us to understand the estimated speed at which you walk and the likely stride length,” Pey said, noting that the app first records a user’s location. using GPS or even a “non-location” such as the user’s front door, previously relying solely on sensors to determine where the user is relative to their environment.
“Once we know the speed or stride length, and we know where you are, the algorithm works with 99.999% certainty where your next step will be,” Pey continued. “When you change speed, we notice it because that energy goes through your hip. So that’s why we stay 99.999% sure where you are.”
Obtaining an accurate location also relies on mapping the environment. As Waymap grows, maps from local transportation authorities or open street maps are needed when mapping the outside of stops and stations. For the DC trial, however, Waymap used lidar scans to map the stations, as well as 360-degree video. The scans provided the basic layout of the stations, and the videos helped identify obstacles or points of interest — such as pillars, trash cans or seating areas — for people with disabilities.
In the future, when the use of Waymap reaches critical mass, Pey wants to enable sighted people to use the app while they are traveling so that they can effectively donate data to the startups about their steps and the way they maneuver around positions. . This will help Waymap’s algorithms learn through constantly updated maps and route information.
Waymap recently closed a $4.9 million (£4 million) pre-Series A and plans to increase its Series A next year. The funds will be used to further advance the technology in all areas of localization and mapping, as well as build the startup’s business development team in the US, Pey said.
Pey expects Waymap, which is already profiting from transportation authorities and cities, to be profitable shortly after the next raise.