GoodMaps Explore: Indoor navigation with a smartphone

GoodMaps Explore is an app that can be used for both outdoor and indoor navigation. In this blog, we give an overview of the app and how it works. We then talk about what happened when some of our service users from our User Voice Group put the app through its paces at two train stations.

How does GoodMaps Explore work?

Accessible outdoor navigation apps for people with sight loss have been around for some time now, and there is a wide range available. However, for indoor navigation, there are fewer options.

Some use beacons located within a building and others use QR codes for guidance.

GoodMaps Explore is a new app that offers indoor and outdoor navigation. This works via the camera on your phone which accesses a previously scanned 3D indoor map of the area. Location accuracy in optimum conditions is about one metre.

GoodMaps Explore has also found an effective solution for bridging the gap between outdoor navigation and indoor navigation by using the same app to automatically switch between the two. This is designed to get past the issue of when your navigation announces that you have reached your destination, but you don’t know where the entrance is, whether there are steps or how to get in.

At the time of writing, GoodMaps is up and running in all stations maintained by Trans Pennine Express, as well as a selection of local Asda stores including Hulme and Blackburn. Details of where Goodmaps is available can be found within the App under the Location Directory, which is accessible from the menu at the bottom right of the screen.

The app aims to give turn by turn navigation throughout the stations to get passengers from the station entrance, through the ticket barriers, onto the correct platform and to their train with confidence and ease.

What happened when the app was put through its paces?

We decided to give the app a trial run with some people with sight loss at two mapped locations around Manchester. We chose the train station at Manchester Airport and Stalybridge Railway Station.

Members of our User Voice Group met up and went to Manchester Airport with the app installed on three different models of iPhone. We experienced different levels of success.

As for usability, the app is clear and simple to use and is accessible using VoiceOver. The app also offers lots of customisation within the settings, enabling a user to change home screen options, notification frequency, audio and voice notifications, routing preferences and the units for distance measurements.

There are also a range of simple tutorials within the app to allow you to get started.

Entering the airport station, we decided to try and find the nearest toilets. We opened the app, searched for the nearest toilets, held up our phones and followed the directions on the screen.

The entrance wasn’t too busy, so the app was quick and responsive, and directions were clear. The accuracy was very precise and found the location within a metre.

We then headed back to the entrance and tried to get to one of the train platforms. Unfortunately, it was an incredibly busy time and with lots of people around we had to reset the location a couple of times to get to the correct platform one level below. Once on the platform and in a less busy environment, navigation between platforms was smoother and a little easier.

One service user, Malcolm, felt that the app was easy to access, and successful at locating places. However, due to the busyness of the station, he had to “reset his phone” too frequently.

Another service user, Peter, said that he felt the app was very accurate, however he did have some problems with VoiceOver on his phone.

The map for the Airport is due to be rescanned soon to update current changes within the airport.

Two other service users, Roz a guide dog owner) and Arthur (a long cane user) tested the app at Stalybridge Station. Unfortunately, Stalybridge Station did not appear as an option on Arthur’s app. This has since been resolved and was an issue with the installation rather than the app itself.

The route to the accessible toilet navigated Roz to the lift, which we could not understand as there was an accessible ramp right next to it. Roz walked up the ramp and picked up the route again from the lift exit and was navigated to the accessible toilet with no issues. It turns out that the main issue with that route was ‘human error’ in the fact that we thought we knew better than the app! Had we followed the instructions given by the app, we would have been absolutely fine and got to the destination without any issues.

Navigation to the platform was relatively easy and accurate, although it did involve a few resets on the way. After each reset, the current location was picked up again very quickly.

What are our overall thoughts?

Overall, the indoor mapping worked well and was accurate to about a metre, and it’s great to have an app to make independent travel more accessible.

Service users found that the first route was initially difficult to follow, but after that it was much easier. They also felt like they were juggling their phone and cane or guide dog as the app needs to access the camera to function correctly. This issue quickly faded as people gained familiarity with the app and usage.

Like all things, a bit of practice and familiarity makes it much easier to use much more effectively. There are also some great instructions included when you launch the app giving some valuable tips and tricks for use.

The Development Team at GoodMaps are rightfully excited about their app as this technology gives people with sight loss more opportunities to independently navigate unfamiliar indoor sites, and successfully arrive at their destination!

We understand that they have identified a number of potential improvements and are actively working on them. Neil Barnfather from GoodMaps told us: “When we consider just how far we’ve gone in such a small-time frame, we’re looking forward to seeing the improvements that GoodMaps will deliver in the coming years.” 

We agree and are looking forward to taking a trip to Asda in Manchester, with our incredible User Voice Group members.

Download GoodMaps Explore from the App Store

Download GoodMaps Explore from Google Play

Visit the GoodMaps website

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