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iNavigate: accessible GPS on the roads of India

There used to be a time when I could take my trusty Nokia E51, enter my destination and go on my merry way. This was made possible by a program called Wayfinder Access which was probably the only specialized GPS solution that worked outside North America and Europe. This changed when Wayfinder Access collapsed. Since then, there has been no equivalent program. Yes, the later versions of Nokia maps are accessible but you can’t see things like trip distance, time to destination, current speed and what is around you. Yes, we have Google Maps which are accessible on Android, partly accessible on IOS and inaccessible on Symbian. Loadstone GPS also exists but getting turn-by-turn directions is almost impossible.

Enter Navigon and blindSquare. Navigon is fully accessible at least on the iPhone and does not require an Internet connection to work. Its coverage of places at least in Delhi is adequate. Moreover, you can see what is around you, your current speed and trip distance. There are however a few challenges with Navigon.

  • Entering addresses is difficult. You need to enter the name of the city and then on the next screen, the place you want.An app called navigon now is supposed to help with it but it does not work for addresses in India. I get a parsing error whenever I have used the app.
  • The maps do not appear to be updated as frequently as one would like.
  • It will not automatically speak the names of places as you pass them.

Enter blindSquare. This app uses FourSquare and speaks places of interest as you pass them. In addition, you can search for places and launch a host of navigation apps like navigon, Apple Maps and Google maps with the places plotted. In navigon, I just have to hit the start button and I am good to go. Blindsquare even runs in the background and keeps talking so you can multitask on the phone.

I now use a 2 app GPS solution namely Navigon and blindSquare and I have much more information than what I had with Wayfinder Access. My search for a GPS alternative is over.

my incredible out the windscreen experience

Before I begin, I want to highlight that in the latest test version of the vOICe, we have hesterernalization sound rendering. this has not been available on the mobile phone version until now. It adds a tremendous amount of clarity to the soundscape. Though, it does slow down the sonification a little bit.

I had wayfinder access running on my mobile phone. at the same time, I had launched the latest version of the vOICe. I had set the vOICe to double speed sonification as well as 4D rendering. I then connected the hands-free kit to the phone. I now was holding the phone on top of the dashboard such that the camera was looking at the windscreen. I was able to detect a surprising number of things. For example, for the first time, I was able to make out whether there was a clear road ahead of me. On top of that, I was able to tell whether a vehicle was getting too close to the left or to the right of the car. In India, we have right-hand drive. So, I was sitting on the left of the driver. therefore, the right side soundscapes were not very clear however, if I paid attention, I was still able to make out that a vehicle was getting too close. On the left, I was able to make an approximate guess on what the vehicle was. For example, a bus gives a very distinctive piano like sound because of its many windows.

Another thing that I was now able to do was to pay attention to the pitch of the soundscapes. By comparing the pitch I heard of the road and that of the object, I was able to tell whether the object was higher than my car or not. I am not sure if this is accurate. I was able to sense traffic moving. At one point, I was also able to sense when a vehicle moved too close to my car and then moved a little away. I was doublechecking my observations with my driver.

As of now, I do not see any way of seeing the rearview mirror and, I was unable to see roadsigns or any other structures on the road. I do need to do a lot more testing but, from my previous similar experiences, this experience represents a qualitative jump. For the first time, I was actually able to analyse what I was looking at.

G66+ AGPS database installation

The below tutorial was posted to the Wayfinder Access mailing list. It is written by Ibrahim Gucukoglu and is being posted with his permission.

For those of you who are interested or own a G66+ gps receiver, here is a brief tutorial on how to install the AGPS database to the unit. Despite the popular notion that this process is inaccessible or at least very difficult will be dispelled shortly:
You will need to have the following to hand. The gps receiver, USB cable and software disk all of which should have come in the packaging.

Firstly, we need to install the driver for the USB device. Insert the cd in to an XP or Vista computer. The instructions given here are for XP as that is what I use. The CD should automatically start, if it doesn’t, find the drive in which the cd is located in my computer and press enter. You will be asked whether you want to enable active content, you should answer Yes to any prompts that appear. A web interface will appear and from this you should choose “software” then “driver”. Select run in both dialog boxes, you’ll be guided through the installation of the driver by the driver installation wizard which may or may not depending on your hardware settings require you to click “continue anyway” when the hardware wizard interface appears.

Installation of the driver now complete, connect the gps receiver to the USB port and follow the found new hardware wizard to complete installation. Make sure you here that the found new hardware balloon appears indicating successful installation. Now we can proceed to installing the software AGPS tool.

Returning to the web interface, enter on “AGPS Application” and follow the instructions. You will be prompted where to install the program and if necessary, the ULA for the framework will appear, you must install this by clicking “accept” and following through the installation to completion.

Finally, the AGPS application itself which is extremely simple to use. An icon on your desktop (unless you chose not to create one) will launch the program. There are three tabs similar to those in a windows multiple page dialog box. The one we concern ourselves with is the AGPS tab. Firstly, tab round to the combo box for selecting baud rate and select 38400 which is the baud rate of this receiver. Click scan and if you use your reviewing cursor, you’ll find a status line indicating that the gps was found on com X and the download button should enable. Click download, you’ll be asked if you are connected to the internet, if you are click OK and the downloading of the AGPS database will begin. When downloading is complete, you’ll be told that writing will commence, click OK and wait for writing operation to be complete.

Congratulations you have just written the AGPS database to the receiver, I trust this tutorial will help those either planning on buying or who already bought one of these Excellent little receivers and I’m happy to take questions.

My 96 hour road trip to Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and back to Delhi

Tuesday 16:00 to 12:00

My laptop a Dell latitude d630 refused to behave so I was in a crises before the trip began. A dash to the office had resulted in my being able to grab the Dele driver disks. I should have grabbed the Windows XP disk too but as you will see later, the disk would have only provided psychological support. I was hoping to reinstall my screen reader in the car but that did not happen since the laptop did not recognize my usb drive. There I was traveling towards Jaipur at about 95 kmph and feverishly trying to uninstall the generic usb root hub. I tried downloading NVDA but that was too much for my gprs connection.

Giving up on my laptop, I then switched onWayfinder Access and plotted a direct course to the Royal Ensign. This is where I was staying. Horrors! WFA kept telling me that I was offtrack! I then plotted a root to Jaipur alone and things smoothened out. As before, I was amaized by the number of petrol pumps on the highway.
We reached Jaipur without incident where I plotted a course to the Royal Ensign again. This time it worked though the human taxi driver got confused at statue circle and took the wrong exit from the round about. Once that had been rectified we reached the Royal Ensign without incident.

Now came the crucial moment. I finally deleted all the generic usb root hub devices and rebooted the laptop. Oh joy! the devices reinstalled themselves and my usb drive was recognized! I installed Jaws For Windows and proceeded with product activation. It was fortunate that my employer was billed by the cab company according to the distance travelled and not according to the number of passengers since my old friend merfy was with me. My boss would not have appreciated the increased bill and explaining Merfy has always been tricky. I was out of product activations so had to make a quick ISD call to Freedom Scientific technical support. My thanks to Jenifer at Freedom Scientific for not getting flustered with my dropping mobile phone connection. It took 3 calls thanks to that dratted connection to get my activations renewed. After that things went easily. I let the laptop update overnight since I had to be at the client’s location by 10:30 the next morning.

Wednesday 0430 to 10:30

I woke early and found to my intense relief and joy that windows update had finished. The best part of it was that I had downloaded 82.5 MB on a GPRS connection!

Offices in Jaipur start by 10:30 and as far as I know, nothing will induce anyone to start earlier. My work turned out to be significantly more complex and involved a number of conference calls. Fortunately, all the participants were in the same time zone.

My colleague and I then had a quick byte at the Mcdonalds, took our bags and began moving towards Jodhpur.

Wednesday 16:00 to 12:00

Jodhpur is about a 5 hour drive from Jaipur. The seenary is unremarkable and in any case, it was too dark to see anything much. The highway is not lighted so the only source of illumination is the headlights of passing vehicles. Wayfinder Access worked as expected for the first part of the journey. Then, the phone signal became patchy and that was that. I switched to using Loadstone. This program is especially designed to be accessible. It uses free map data and does not have routing capabilities so you do not get turn-by-turn directions. It was at this stage that I realized with a shock how much the taxi driver and my sited colleague had become dependant on my naviggation. The taxi driver kept asking me after every few kilometers whether we were on the right track. The highway was deserted and the darkness and irratic driving of the few vehicles we did pass added to our or rather my colleague’s sense of aprehension. I was too busy checking our heading and navigating. I had found Jodhpur on the free map and by comparing it’s heading to our currentt heading, I was able to verify that we were indeed moving in the right direction. My special thanks to Cearbhall O Meadhra for converting my map data into loadstone format! We would not have reached Jodhpur without this data.

Newtons Manor

My introduction to Newtons Manor was a stomach clenching stab of fear since my colleague exclaimed at a live cat that was sitting near my room! I can’t stand animals moving around me or touching me without my consent! On top of that, I could hear what I took to be a species of lizzard and the kitchen and the guesthouse was not fully airconditioned. That was to be expected since we were using budget hotels. However, my fears were soon dispelled by the friendly care taker who explained that the cat was a stuffed animal. On top of that, he arranged for an extension chord so that I could charge my laptop, cellular phone and GPS receiver! I have been to billion dollar companies where getting an extension chord seems to be even tougher than achieving the next impossible target!
The owner came to meet us and ensured that we were comfortable. The room was spick and span and the food was excellent. It was almost like home cooked food so none of that heavy oil or extra spices.

Thursday 05:00 to 10:30

After checking my e-mail I decided to bathe. The problem was that I did not know how to access the hot water. Hotels vary on the ways this is done. Some places have water heaters installed in the wash rooms while others have a central heater. The washroom was well lit so I was able to use the vOICe to scan the walls for the heater or at least for a switch. No more groping. My search was fruitless. The heating was centralized so all I had to do was turn on the hot water tap.

Breakfast with guests

Getting to the dining room was another challenge. We had arrived the previous night and had had to cross through the kitchen to get to the dining room. My colleague was still asleep so I decided to essay the task all alone. Voices in conversation soon brought me to the table without any fancy navigation. I did not need to cross the kitchen. I was not given any time to ponder over this mystery since I was greeted by a cheery french voice! The guests were a group of French Canadian and American tourists out to experience the golden triangle of India namely Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Breakfast consisted of juice, cookies, tost and an egg served in a glass. Conversation flowed, one’s neurons were stinulated and by far, this was the best part of the trip.

Travel schedules and work commitments intervened as they usually do and we moved to our respective destinations after exchanging e-mail addresses.

The innerds of Nuton’s Manner

Nuton’s Manner is run like a large paying guest accommodation. The owner and his family sleep in the establishment. The guesthouse has been setup to resemble a victorian manner with genuin antique furniture. My favorite exhibit was a stuffed Siberian tiger. See the below images.

the face of a Siberian tiger
the face of a Siberian tiger


The side of the same Siberian tiger
The side of the same Siberian tiger

Another interesting image was the one I took of the aquarium. The aquarium was kept near that stuffed cat!

An aquarium
An aquarium


On the rocks

We had lunch at a restaurant called “On The Rocks.” This does not refer to a brand of alcoholic beverage nor do they serve alcoholic beverages there as far as I know. The place was setup with rocks and trees to give a forest like look. The restaurant’s management have gone too far though since the outside eating area is littered with dogs sleeping in the sun and a few stray cats. The food is superb though and if you are not paranoid of animals, you must check it out. There is seating inside too so that is the option I will choose in my next visit.

Thursday 14:30 to 21:00

We now setout for Udaipur. The road wound through the Aravalli mountains which made for some spectacular seenary. The most exciting part came when my colleague wanted to take a photograph of a rock formation. A lone monkey was doing sentry duty on that part of the road or so we thought. As soon as she got out of the car, low and behold, about 30 monkeys came loaping towards her! She almost did a backflip into the car and we were off!

The hotel in Udaipur was a gross disappointment. The only saving grace was that it was clean. The food was terrible and the service indifferent.

Friday 04:45 to 12:00

The hotel was the highest structure in that part of Udaipur. See the snapshot of Udaipur that I took from the terrace of the hotel.



Also, see the ladder I had to climb to take the above photograph.

A ladder
A ladder


We then imbarked on the final stage of the trip which was a 13.5 hour car ride including the time taken to fix a flat tire. I now appreciate why highways have so many petrol pumps. The one we got to to get our tire fixed had an old air filling pump. It was a little too dirty to touch and my hand sanitizer was almost finished but the vOICe helped again.

An old air filling pump
An old air filling pump


I reached home around 02:30 and after a hot bath was in bed.

a way finder access experience on a trip to Jaipurr

I recently made a quick business trip to Jaipur. I travelled by road. I was in a taxi with a sighted colleague who was using Google maps. I was using way finder access.

As luck would have it, our taxi driver did not know a thing about the inside of Jaipur.. Don’t ask me why he was assigned to drive us. I was astonished at the number of petrol pumps on the Delhi Jaipur Highway namely national highway 8. Also, several small eating establishments were marked on way finder access as hotels!. Once inside Jaipur, I was able to navigate directly to the building where I was lodged. This navigation was flawless and, we did not need to ask anyone. My colleague could see the roads etc., using google maps but was unable to plot any routes.

There were portions on the highway when no information was reported in the vicinity views. My sighted colleague verified that there was actually nothing around us at that point. however, if you plot a route to Jaipur or anywhere else, the around you view keeps giving you instructions on what to do even in such situations. Also, be warned, that there are a few patches on the highway where you may lose phone signal. This happens for a few seconds but it is enough to trigger way finder access to warn you about this.
Finally, Wayfinder Access may tell you that you are off track. There is no need to panick in such a situation since I suspect that the curves of the highway confuse gps. WayFinder Access reroutes immediately after this notification and all is well.