Gateway Navigation CCC Limited is a social enterprise conceived and created in partnership with the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) that is dedicated to improving the accessibility and inclusivity of interior spaces for members of the blind and visually impaired community in Canada. As such it directs its efforts (and 60% of its profits) toward this social purpose, while operating under an innovative and sustainable business model.
Gateway also aims to provide employment to a sector of the community that is often overlooked or under represented. Four of Gateway’s advisors and directors are blind or visually impaired and, while we recognize that barriers to access and inclusion are not usually built on purpose, this lived experience brings a unique perspective to this conversation, and more importantly to the appropriateness and effectiveness of solutions. The 2,500 blind and partially-sighted members of CCB represent the authentic voice of the blind community in Canada. We are the experts in blindness and not only need to be part of the conversation but involved in the policy decisions that impact our lives.
Working with partners in the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel, Gateway is positioning itself as a centre of excellence for interior location-based navigation services in Canada. Unlike GPS, which was made available through a network of pre-existing satellites launched by national governments and space agencies, interior navigation systems of a similar kind must be established one facility at a time.
Interior Navigation Technology:
Interior navigation technology is in its infancy, with most current systems employing a proprietary cellphone app to communicate with battery-powered low-energy beacons located at strategic decision-making points throughout the interior of a building. These beacons deliver both positioning and contextual information, enabling users to orient themselves, better understand their surroundings, and navigate to their desired destination. Apps and programmable beacons are available from numerous companies such as Right-Hear, Blind Square and Montreal-based Autour. These apps are not interchangeable, nor do they connect to pre-existing wireless networks within buildings.
Other technologies under development are designed to use the wireless infrastructure being retrofitted into existing buildings or installed in new ones. These systems provide location information using triangulation between wireless hot spots (a similar principle to exterior GPS) and construct internal databases of preferred routes through a building using a technique known as ‘wireless fingerprinting.’ These technologies rely in part on the ability of an app to determine the distance of the user from a wireless hot spot based on signal strength. Currently, signals can be severely compromised by the number of occupants and the presence of walls between source and receiver. With interior navigation in a period of rapid development, these and other shortcomings will likely be overcome in the near future.
Although Gateway hosted two demonstrations of beacon navigation systems in Vancouver and Burnaby in 2018, the company is not exclusively a promoter or purveyor of this technology, but rather has positioned itself as an information and implementation portal for all types of interior navigation systems - acting as advocate, advisor and educator for all stages of design, programming, installation and maintenance.
Rather than simply increasing the availability of a specific technology, the most fundamental requirement for the advancement of interior navigation systems is the creation of a universal language or protocol, that will ensure compatibility between smart phone navigation apps, and the beacons or other location-based systems with which they must communicate. The creation of this universal language, known as the Wayfindr Standard, is currently the focus of government and UN sponsored projects underway in the United States and Europe, and is recognized in principle by more than 150 countries worldwide. The Wayfindr Standard’ offers the promise of a single open-source ‘language’ that can be used by app developers worldwide, enabling seamless communication between navigation apps and the information apps provided by each venue. No longer will it be necessary to download an information app for every location you want to visit.
What remains to be done to provide a consistent and repeatable experience for users of an interior navigation app however, is the creation of a protocol for organizing the information databases they will be accessing at each venue. The value of such a database is best illustrated by the example of the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) recently launched in the United States.
Prior to 2005, there had not been any standard for public transit timetables. This deficiency was highlighted when Google introduced an integrated travel information system for drivers that enabled them to negotiate road and street networks across the country using Google Maps – whatever their preferred platform.
Frustrated by the lack of similarly integrated and accessible transit schedules, the Portland OR transit authority (TriMet) worked with Google to develop a consistent format for entering bus and train schedule information into a common database. In 2006 Portland became the first city included on this database, initially launched as google Transit Trip Planner, but later renamed GTFS. Transit authorities across the US can now add their own schedule information into the database, choosing from a menu of 50 attributes or descriptors compatible with all multi-modal journey planner applications.
Proposal: Database Development for Interior NavigationGateway envisages a similar database protocol that would provide a platform to which interior navigation information for any venue in Canada could be added. To do this, we would propose a pilot project involving four public buildings of different types: an office, a hospital, an airport and a library (for example) to define the broad set of parameters to which the protocol must respond.
A wireless low energy beacon system would be installed in each facility to test different approaches to the ordering of information recognizing that, among other things:
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