Outbarriers: Universal accessibility for all
Universal accessibility for stores and points of interest. Four years ago we started Outbarriers. We tell you all the details and evolution since its inception.
"Do something useful"
In 2014 we were talking with our friend Antonio, blind for 15 years, about the technology and innovative projects that we had been developing.
At one point in the conversation, Antonio interrupts us with:
You are good, but when are you going to do something to help blind people?
That made us reflect. We saw that despite our friend Antonio seemed to move with some ease, it only seems because he always does under the same route.
The tools available to discover their reality and environment are precarious.
Analyzing the state of the art we found mobility applications based on GPS, but this had a small drawback. Its precision in ideal environments does not fall below 3 meters. Also, it does not work in interior space.
But in Cupertino not long ago they had announced an interesting technology.
At that time, FIWARE, an initiative of the European Union for the development of standards and IoT technology in Europe, called a contest with more 200.000€ in prizes for those ideas that improve the lives of citizens.
To participate, it was only necessary to send an idea.
We already had the idea and it was simple but powerful: Notify blind people of the obstacles in the street by using bluetooth beacons that are detected by your mobile phone.
With the clear idea, we made a home video and we outlined a first business model with Business Canvas Model.
And we were selected among more than 400 ideas to develop a prototype under FIWARE in Seville for a week.
It was a tough week. But in the end we managed to have a prototype that we taught during the presentation before the jury.
The test was great and we got the 3rd prize, worth 20,000€.
Had just been born Outbarriers.
With the help of the prize and our own resources, we continue to give shape to the prototype and to develop the value proposal.
FIWARE also offered help through different start-up accelerators across Europe.
We apply several times and finally we get help.
Thanks to that help we were able to develop a large part of the platform.
The central system uses FIWARE Orion Context Broker as the central information system on the beacons and the premises or points of interest where they belong.
Reaching this point was not easy.
At first we used commercial beacons and we used the signal level to estimate the relative distance of the user to the beacon.
We soon discovered that this was not very viable due to electromagnetic interference that other devices such as WiFi networks, the installation environment itself or even the person carrying the mobile caused.
A calibration was needed once the installation was done in order to better adjust the distance calculation.
But there was a problem, the firmware was proprietary. We decided then to create our own firmware from scratch.
We already had a more reliable solution, but it was not enough. The error was around 2 meters and that for blind people was a world.
It was our own users who gave us a possible solution. Include a small speaker as the key locators themselves.
We made a pilot hardware and installed it in many stores in Granada and Madrid. That worked.
With Outbarriers a person in your house can decide what trade to go to. With guided GPS you are directed to the vicinity of the trade and there navigation continues through the use of the beacon.
Finding the door is trivial. After indicating it from the app, the speaker of the beacon begins to emit a periodic sound. As the beacon is installed in the arch of the door, the person can enter the trade with determination and autonomy. Like any other person.
With all the experience accumulated over several years, we decided to create our own beacon from scratch.
We talked about creating the first accessible beacon in the market. It includes features that help (almost) all people: blind, deaf, with mobility problems, older, small, ... (still unable to help people who are deafblind, for now).
1 Outbeacon = 1.000 Apps
Retail needs more.
No one has any doubt that accessibility is a right.
That your store is accessible is important and improves your public image step.
But we all know that commerce with a physical store has a great competitor: online sales.
What if the beacons also served to add value to the shops?
In fact, the beacons were created by Apple with the aim of improving the customer experience in stores.
It provides a great accessibility value, since practically any action can be executed once the mobile detects it.
That's why we created an API and an SDK for Android and iOS. That way any app can use the beacons to offer added value in stores.
As an example of this potential, we created two apps very demanded by our users.
- Accessible Menu: Now when being near a restaurant, any user will receive on his mobile the menu or letter of the place. It is represented in an attractive way imitating the slates that they place on the door but making it accessible to screen readers for blind people. Avaiable for Android and iOS.
- WiFri: Everyone has the problem of being able to connect to the nearest WiFi. WiFri is what it does as soon as it detects the beacon. It connects you securely and quickly to the WiFi that the store offers its customers. Pending to be released for Android and iOS.
- Accessible Audioguide: Given all the technology that we have created it was relatively easy to create another useful application, an audio guide for museums or itineraries that is accessible to all. Available for Android on demand.
Some of our clients have started using and integrating the SDK / API in their solutions.
Many challenges remain.
In the short term, expand the SDK support for Cordova, Ionic and Flutter.
In the medium term, we would like to do indoor navigation.
And in the long term, well, what our users and customers decide.
We keep working!