Hearsee Mobility

Helping the blind and low-vision navigate the world around them

Hearsee Mobility is developing leading-edge assistive technology that describes points of interest and offers turn-by-turn instructions. The resulting iOS, Android, and web applications will empower the blind and low-vision to explore new areas with confidence.

Hearsee Mobility

Hearsee Mobility

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Imagine walking through a popular museum, busy airport, or college campus. How do you find a specific sculpture, departure gate, or classroom?

Now imagine navigating these areas as a blind or low-vision person.

An estimated six million Americans suffer from vision loss. And thirty percent of blind people rarely leave their homes alone, because getting around is so frustrating.

Many of us are accustomed to using GPS to navigate outdoors, but there’s a critical lack of similar technology for internal environments.

Hearsee Mobility is tackling this challenge head-on. They’re a Utah-based nonprofit dedicated to helping the blind and low vision navigate their surroundings.

Together, we’re developing leading-edge assistive technology for indoor navigation—including turn-by-turn directions and descriptions of points of interest. The resulting iOS, Android, and web applications will empower this community to explore new areas with confidence.

4 million

Americans with vision loss

12 weeks

to complete iOS beta

98% of users

said the app helped them

How the digital products work:

Hearsee Mobility’s patented cane scans radio frequency identification (RFID) tags installed in buildings, providing clear walking instructions through the mobile app, called Hearsee.

Together, these pioneering technologies help the blind find a bathroom, checkout counter, library section, or departure gate—and describe points of interest along the way.

For research and testing, we mapped our MichiganLabs office building. Here’s an example of how the user interface works:

  • When you enter our front door, your cane will automatically detect the nearest RFID tag. The app will then provide a list of locations within our building that you can select from, such as the kitchen, restrooms, or offices.
  • If you’re trying to meet with our co-founder and managing partner, Mark Johnson, the app will inform you that his office is located on the second floor—118 feet from your current location. If you choose “start,” the app will verbally describe step-by-step instructions.

Product strategy:

When the Hearsee Mobility team approached us, they had already built a physical cane and begun an Android app.

They were looking for a digital product partner to:

  • Enhance the Android mobile app experience,
  • Build an iOS app, and
  • Create the web portal that facilities managers can use to visually map and update their buildings.

User testing is always an important component of successful custom software development. But it was absolutely essential in this project, as our current team members are not members of the blind and low vision community.

James Bloomfield, CEO of Hearsee Mobility, graciously connected us to people who could provide insight, participate in demos, and speak into the product development process.

Design and UX considerations:

As our UX designers met with members of the blind and low vision community, we quickly learned that this isn’t a singular audience.

We were privileged to learn how people create their own fascinating ways of navigating the world around them. For example, some blind individuals conceptualize distance by feet and others by steps.

As a result, we were challenged to create UX solutions and application prompts that serve people based on how they personally navigate their surroundings.

Our designers relied on iOS’s great voiceover accessibility features to guide us. One challenge has been determining how much information should be read aloud to the user. We also increased font size by two points for low vision users.

Development process:

When we inherited the Android app, our initial testing demonstrated that it was incredibly difficult to capture the user’s first location.

This meant the user didn’t know which direction to head. They might begin walking one way and then get rerouted back the other direction once their cane/app scanned a new RFID tag.

To solve this, we paired the phone’s compass function with the orientation of the map.

We also decided to develop a responsive web-based system, so that building managers can more easily add, map, and manage their facilities.

We’ve seen several positive results:

  • The time to map a building has been reduced by 300%,
  • Tags are more accurately placed, and
  • Hearsee can eventually be self-service for adapting to the changing needs of buildings.

Most importantly, the blind community will have more choices for Hearsee-enabled buildings in the future!

“We take technology for granted. But considering the technological abilities we have today, there is no reason why the blind community should be underserved. We’ve found the best people possible in our partners at Michigan Software Labs. They fully support our mission to make the world more accessible for the blind and low vision community and they have the product strategy, design, and development expertise to make our vision a technical reality.”

James Bloomfield
Hearsee Mobility President & CEO

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