GetThere - Navigation app for blind pedestrians

1 What is GetThere

1.1 What are all the great things about the GetThere app

1.2 What do I need, in order to use the GetThere app

2 Getting started with GetThere

2.1 Installing the GetThere app

2.2 Downloading map data for your area

2.3 Go outside and try it out

3 Usage techniques

3.1 Using Android accessibility features: TalkBack and ExploreByTouch

3.2 Using speech recognition for Yes/No questions

3.3 Using speech recognition for addresses and place names

4 Where to find things in the app

4.1 GetThere main screen

4.2 Setup menu

4.3 Maps menu

4.4 Settings screen

4.5 Navigation menu

4.6 Places menu

4.7 List of places

4.8 Menu of options regarding a Place

4.9 Directions menu

4.10 Alarms menu

5 Places, Directions, and Alarms

5.1 Defining a Place

5.2 Storing Places in a text file

5.3.1 Format for the text file for Places

5.3 Getting Directions

5.3.1 Saved directions

5.3.2 Directions starting from your current location

5.3.3 “Recalculating” directions

5.4 Stopping navigational guidance

5.5 Alarms

6 Credits

1 What is GetThere

GetThere is a navigation app that is designed especially for blind and visually-impaired pedestrians.

GetThere can provide you with any or all of the following types of navigational information:

  1. The name of the street you are on, the names of the nearest cross-streets, and the distance to the next cross-street,
  2. Turn-by-turn directions to a destination, including guidance to get back on course if you make a wrong turn,
  3. Distance to a selected place that you are heading towards, and/or
  4. The street address that is closest to your current location.

1.1 What are all the great things about the GetThere app

The GetThere app is designed specifically for blind and visually-impaired users.  It is not an adaptation of something that was originally designed for sighted users.

For example, the “buttons” for you to tap on the screen are easy to find, because they are large - they fill the whole screen - and they are arranged in a simple line that just goes down the screen.

The app gives you the choice of entering text by using the keyboard or by using speech recognition.

The app recognizes that the primary way for an app to communicate with you is by talking to you.  Everything that you do with the app is confirmed with an audible response.

The app is unusual for a navigation app in that it does not display a visual map at all. Instead, it uses words to describe where you are and to describe the shape of intersections - including all sorts of funny shapes including 5-way intersections.

Within seconds of when you first start using the app, you can instruct it to automatically describe each intersection that you come across as you are walking.  This feature, like most features in GetApp, does not even require an Internet connection.

When you get navigational guidance towards a destination, the app not only tells you when and where to make turns, but also tells you about each cross street along the way.  The app automatically talks to you before and after each intersection.

The navigational guidance detects when you have made a wrong turn, and gives you clear correctional instructions to get back on course.  And then it explicitly confirms to you that you have successfully made the correction.

In addition to, or instead of, the street-oriented automatic messages, you can set an “alarm” that will inform as you as you get closer to a location, such as a bus stop.  Although GetThere is primarily designed for use by pedestrians, the alarm feature works equally well if you are on foot or on a bus.

When the app issues an automatic message, it also triggers the vibrate feature on a smartphone or other vibrator-equipped mobile device.

In addition to the automatic messages, you can ask for information at any time.  Just as how, in other navigation apps, a sighted person always has the option of looking at a visual map, in this app, you can always get information from the app.  With most devices, all you have to do is shake the device.

The app reminds you to turn GPS on, and takes you directly to the appropriate Android screen for doing so.

The app works with TalkBack, the standard Android screenreader, in such a way that the various messages do not compete with each other.  This may seem obvious, but there are few apps that manage to do this correctly.

The app uses only the basic touchscreen interactions that you would most likely already know how to do.  You don’t need to learn any advanced multi-part gestures to use this app.

For partially-sighted users, all menus are labelled with large bold type, and the background colors alternate to form a striped pattern.

GetThere can be used anywhere in the world, subject to the availability of open-source map data in that area.

GetThere is available in several languages; currently: Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, and Swedish.

and, last but not least: the app can run on Wi-Fi-only devices that you can get for less than $50.

1.2 What do I need, in order to use the GetThere app

GetThere is currently available only for Android devices.  The Android smartphone or tablet must be running Android version 4.1 or later.

The device needs to have GPS, to determine your location.

The app requires about 200 to 900 megabytes of storage space on the device to store map-related data, with the actual amount depending on what country or state you are in, or if you want to use the app in more than one country or state.  On devices that allow you to supplement storage with a MicroSD card, the map data files may be stored on such a card.

You can run GetThere on a device that does not have a cellular connection, such as a Wi-Fi only tablet.  Some features require an Internet connection, but most do not:  You need an Internet connection while you are setting up directions, so you could do that while you have Wi-Fi turned on.  You do not need an Internet connection to receive navigational guidance, street announcements, or detailed descriptions of intersections, while you are outdoors walking.

The following features do not require any Internet connection:

The following features require an Internet connection, either using Wi-Fi or a cellular data plan:

The following is best done using Wi-Fi

The following features require a cellular Internet connection:

2 Getting started with GetThere

The first two things you need to do are to install the app on your device, and to download a map data file for the country or state where you will be using the app.

2.1 Installing the GetThere app

The GetThere app is available for free download from the Google Play app store at:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.LewLasher.getthere

2.2 Downloading map data for your area

The first time you run the GetThere app, you need to download a map data file for your state, province, or country.  Even though the app does not display a map, it uses map data to determine the names and locations of streets in your area.  The app automatically detects that you do not yet have a map file, and takes you directly to the screen for downloading a map.

If, at a later time, you want to go back and download another map, you can reach this screen, from the GetThere main screen, by selecting “Setup”, and then, on the Setup menu, by selecting “Maps.”

Downloading a map requires an Internet connection.  It is best to download a map using Wi-Fi, because, depending on your cellular data plan, it can be very expensive to download a large file.

The maps are organized by regions, roughly corresponding to the major continents of the world.  After you select a region, you are taken to a second screen that has a list of all the available maps in that region.  After you select the desired map, it starts downloading.  (If your device has a removable MicroSD memory card, you will be asked whether to put the map on that memory card, rather than in the storage on the device itself.) You will get an Android notification on your device when the download has completed.  Then, you can go on to use the rest of the GetThere app!

While you are waiting for a map data file to download, you can get a progress report, in terms of the percentage completed, by tapping again on “Download a Map” on the Maps menu.

An alternative for advanced users

If you know someone else who is also using the GetThere app, and if you know how to transfer files to your mobile device, you can transfer the files to the following folder, which is created as soon as you start up the GetThere app the first time:

Android/data/com.LewLasher.getthere/files

If your device has a MicroSD card, there is a folder on the card with that same pathname on the card, where you can put map data files.

2.3 Go outside and try it out

Once you have downloaded the map data file for your area, you can go outside and try out the app.

From the GetThere main screen, select “Where am I”.  If you do not have GPS enabled, then the app will ask to take you to the Android settings screen to enable GPS.  Even if you do have GPS enabled, it may take a minute or 2 before the reception is good enough to determine your location.  Once your location is available, the app should respond to “Where am I” by telling you the street that you are on, and the 2 cross-streets that you are in between.  The first time you ask “Where am I”, it can take several seconds, but it will be much faster from then on.

If you walk along the street for about 20 or 30 meters, the app will know not only your location but your direction of travel.  Then, the app should respond to “Where am I” by describing the intersection that you are going towards, and the distance to that intersection.

Notice also that the intersection is described even if there is only a street on the left side, whether you are on the left or the right side of the street.  GPS reception is usually accurate enough to determine which side of the street you are on, but far from 100 percent of the time.  To be on the safe side, GetThere always describes all intersections.  Moreover, the descriptions always describe any funny angles involved, even for 5-way intersections.

If you go to the Settings screen, then there are 2 optional features that make it even easier to get street announcements:

Note, however, that automatic announcements places an extra load on the battery in your device, as does GPS.  When you are not using the app, you can conserve the battery life by:

3 Usage techniques

3.1 Using Android accessibility features: TalkBack and ExploreByTouch

If you are already familiar with Android accessibility features, or if you are not using them, you can skip this section.

When you need to “click” or “press” something on the screen, there are 2 steps.  First, you find where it is, and TalkBack reads the name of each “button”.  Second, to actually invoke the button, you do a double-tap, which is two very fast taps on the screen.  The double-tap can be anywhere on the screen.

In order to find where something is on the screen, there are 2 approaches.

First, you can sort of guess, by pressing approximately where you think the thing is on the screen.  In the GetThere app, it is often pretty easy to guess correctly, because, in situations where there are only 2 choices, the whole top half of the screen is one choice, and the whole bottom half of the screen is the other choice.  For example, whenever there is a Yes or No question, the top of the screen is Yes, and the bottom is No.  And then, after Android confirms your choice, by saying something like “Yes button”, you do a double-tap to invoke the Yes. For another example, on the main screen of the GetThere app, there are only 2 choices, so it is pretty easy to hit it correctly by the guessing approach.  

The other approach to finding where something is on the screen is to go through them in order.  You do this by swiping to the right.  Each time you swipe, Android reads the name of the next button, until you get to the last one on the screen.  To go backwards, swipe to the left.

You can combine these 2 approaches.  If there is a menu with 5 choices on it, and you know you want the 4th one, you can start with the guessing approach, by tapping near the bottom of the screen.  If you luck out and hit the exact right place, you are all set to invoke it by double-tapping.  If you missed it, swipe to the right to go to the next choice on the menu, or to the left to go to the previous choice on the menu, until you get to the one that you were looking for.

The same techniques apply when you are on a scrolled list.  The GetThere app has a list of places, which is essentially a list of addresses that you have entered for later reference.

You can go to the next place in the list by swiping to the right, and then double-tap to select that place from the list.  In addition, to scroll faster down through the list, place two fingers on the screen, and swipe down with both fingers.  The faster you swipe, the more it will scroll.  And, as you have probably already guessed, double-swiping upwards will scroll back, towards the beginning of the list.

3.2 Using speech recognition for Yes/No questions

GetThere allows you to answer yes-or-no questions by just saying the word Yes or No.  You can also tap on the screen, with the top half of the screen being for Yes, and the bottom half for No. (and, with TalkBack, following that tap with a double-tap).

If you use Android speech recognition with a language other than English, you may be able to say the words for “yes” and “no” in your language, and, for some languages, you may also be able to say the English words “yes” and “no”.  It depends on the speech recognition module for the particular language.

There is a 5-second time-out on the speech recognition option.  After the app asks you a question, you will hear a sound, then 5 seconds of silence, then another different sound.  I don’t know how to describe the sounds, but, if you listen to them, you’ll get to recognize them.  After the 5 seconds is up, you can still tap on the screen to answer Yes or No to the question. Or, if you wait long enough - about 15 seconds after that, the app will repeat the question and you'll have another shot at using speech recognition.

As you gain familiarity with the Yes/No questions in the GetThere app, you may find it more expedient to tap on the screen, rather than waiting for the beep.  In fact, you can tap on the screen while the app is still asking the question.

3.3 Using speech recognition for addresses and place names

Other than for saying yes or no, there are two other situations in the app where you can use speech recognition. The first is to supply an address, and the second is to give a name for that address for later reference in asking for directions. In both these situations, you have the choice of using speech recognition or the keyboard.

You will be instructed to tap on the top half of the screen to use the keyboard, or to tap on the bottom half to use speech recognition.  Followed by the usual double-tap as required by TalkBack.

If you choose to use the keyboard, be sure to terminate the text by pressing the Done key.

If you are using speech recognition, there is a 5 second limit, within which you must start talking, and then you can keep talking and talking so long as there are no long pauses between words.  You don't need to try to pronounce punctuation marks in an address.  For example, you could say something like one twenty three main street springfield alaska, and then stop talking.

4 Where to find things in the app

GetThere is organized by menus.

4.1 GetThere main screen

The GetThere main screen has the following items:

  1. Where am I.  Select this to get a manual announcement of your current street location.  If you are currently navigating towards a destination, the announcement will also include a description of the next turn you need to make, and the distance to your destination.  In addition, the announcement may optionally also describe nearby places that you have defined, and/or the nearest street address to your current location.
  2. Setup. Select this to change the app’s settings or to work with downloaded maps.
  3. Navigation. Select this to work with all the navigation-related features in the app: defining places to be used as destinations for directions or alarms, getting directions, and setting alarms.
  4. Exit. Select this to leave the app.  This can be helpful in conserving the battery life of your device.

4.2 Setup menu

The Setup menu has the following items:

  1. Maps.  Select this to go to the Maps menu.
  2. Settings.  Select this to go to the app’s Settings screen, where you have the option to turn certain features on and off.
  3. Return to main screen.

4.3 Maps menu

The Maps menu has the following items:

  1. Download a map.  Select this to get a map for a country or state where you want to use the GetThere app.  You can only download one map at a time.  While you are waiting for the download to finish, select “Download a map” to find out about the progress of the download, in terms of the percentage completed.
  2. Cancel download.
  3. Choose a map.  If you use the GetThere app in more than one country or state, select this to choose the map where you want to use the app.
  4. Delete a map.
  5. Check for updated maps.  You need to have an Internet connection to check for updates.
  6. Return to main screen.

4.4 Settings screen

The Settings screen has various options that you can turn on or off.  When you have finished changing settings, use the Back button on your device to return to the Setup menu.

The settings are organized in 3 categories: settings that take effect when you are getting navigational guidance, settings that take effect when you are not getting navigational guidance, and general settings.

The following settings take effect when you are getting navigational guidance, that is, turn-by-turn directions toward a destination:

The following settings take effect when you are not getting navigational guidance:

The following are general settings:

4.5 Navigation menu

The Navigation menu has the following items:

4.6 Places menu

The Places menu has the following items:

4.7 List of places

The list of places, as the name suggests, lists all the Places that are defined in the app.

If you select a Place in the list, the app takes you to the Menu of options regarding the Place.

If you are using TalkBack, when you select a place, TalkBack will tell you when there is an alarm on a Place.  If you are sighted, the name of the Place is displayed in red if the Place has an alarm.

4.8 Menu of options regarding a Place

You reach this menu by going to the List of Places and then selecting one of your places.

This menu has the following items:

4.9 Directions menu

This menu has the following items:

4.10 Alarms menu

The Alarms menu has the following items:

5 Places, Directions, and Alarms

In order to get directions, you have to tell the app where you want to get to, and, in most cases, you also have to tell the app where you want to start from.  To do this, you must create a Place in the GetThere app.  In the most common case, you define the Place by providing an address, and you then give the app a shorter name to refer to that Place from then on.

To define an Alarm, similarly, you must first create a Place that defines the target location for the alarm.

Note that, in general, you need an Internet connection to define places and directions.  If your device does not have a cellular connection, you will need to turn Wi-Fi on.

5.1 Defining a Place

There are two ways to define a place.  The first way is to supply an address.  The other way is to define a place from your current location as established by GPS.

To define a place, take the following steps:

To define a place based on an address, you need to have an Internet connection.  To define a place based on your current location, you do not need an Internet connection, but you do need to have GPS turned on, and you probably need to have been outdoors for long enough, perhaps a minute or so, to have received accurate information.

Going back to the address method, it doesn't always have to be a street address, because, for example, you can just say "Empire State Building", and Google knows where that is. But if you were to say "Springfield Public Library", I wouldn't count on that working out unless you supplied the name of the state, although it's quite possible that you might not need to give the street address.

Any time you define a place, you give it a name for later reference. If you defined the place based on an address, or something that Google recognized instead of an address, then the place name defaults to whatever you supplied for the address, but you have the option to supply a shorter name that would be easier to type or to supply through speech recognition.  And you can always rename the place later.

Note that names of places are not case-sensitive.

Also note that, in the list of places, the address shown may not be an exact match for the address that you supplied, but is, instead, a standardized address from the Google look-up.

5.2 Storing Places in a text file

You can write your Places to a text file.  This allows you to re-use these Places on another device, or to share your Places with other people.

To write your Places to a text file, take the following steps:

By default, the file is written to the Documents folder on your device.  However, you can use the file dialog to choose a different folder.

To read in Places from a text file, take the following steps:

5.3.1 Format for the text file for Places

The file format is comma-separated values, with each Place described on a line in the file.  Blank lines are ignored during import.  Each line must have 6 values, and, therefore, 5 commas, although some of the values can be left blank.

Value number 1 is the name of the Place.

Value number 2 is the full address of a Place that you created in GetThere by looking up an address.  If a Place was created from a GPS location, then value number 2 is blank.

Value number 3 is an optional text value that is suggested for use as a category for Places.  For example, if you receive a set of Places from another person, you may want to enter a category that indicates where you got them from.  Currently, the GetThere app does not make any use of this text value, other than that, if you write out the Places to a text file, it preserves whatever data was read in.

Value number 4 is the latitude for the place, a single number for degrees, with positive numbers for north and negative numbers for south.  For example, 43 degrees, 15 minutes north would be represented as “43.25”.

Value number 5 is the longitude for the place, a single number for degrees, with positive numbers for east and negative numbers for west.  For example, 82 degrees, 30 minutes west would be represented as “-82.5”.

Value number 6 must contain either the single letter "A" or the single letter "G".  "A" indicates a Place that GetThere created by looking up an address, and "G" indicates a Place that GetThere created from a GPS location.  Currently, the GetThere app does not make any use of this information.

Each value can be enclosed within quotation marks, and must be enclosed in quotation marks if the value contains a comma or quotation mark.  Quotation marks within a value are represented by two consecutive quotation marks.  For example, if you created a Place whose name consisted of a quotation mark - which, by the way, is not recommended, but, if you did this and then exported your Places to a text file, the name would appear as 4 consecutive quotation marks.

When you import Places from a text file, the app attempts to read each line of the file, even if there are errors on some lines.  It is an error to try to create a Place with a name that is the same as the name of an existing Place, ignoring upper/lower case, ignoring spaces at the beginning and the end, and treating multiple consecutive spaces as the same as a single space.

After you import Places from a text file, the app displays a report that indicates how many errors there were and how many Places were successfully created, and then listing more details about the errors and successes.

5.3 Getting Directions

Before you can generate directions, you generally need the following:

a. an Internet connection (on a Wi-Fi only device, this means turning Wi-Fi on)

b. places that you previously defined in this app, to serve as the start and end points for the directions

and

c. the map, which is a data file of all the streets in a country or state, must be downloaded and selected for the area within which to get directions.

There are several options for generating directions.  However, in all cases, you start by taking the following steps:

To choose a place for the start or end of directions, there are three ways to make your choice: you can type in the name of the place, or use speech recognition, or select the place from the list of places.  The app will first ask you if you want to select from a list, and, if you say No, then it gives you the screen where you tap in the top half for keyboard or the bottom half for speech recognition.

5.3.1 Saved directions

This feature is primarily for Wi-Fi only devices.

Because you need an Internet connection to get directions, and a Wi-Fi only device might not always have an Internet connection, you can ask for directions in advance, from the comfort of a Wi-Fi equipped location, even though you are not really using those directions right away.  The directions are saved on your device so that you can ask for them at any time in the future that you might need them.  You don’t have to do anything special to make this happen.  Any time you generate a set of directions from place A to place B, the app always saves the directions, and any time you ask for directions from place A to place B, the first thing the app does is to check to see if you already have directions from place A to place B.

If you rename a place, the app will still be able to find directions that you had created to or from that place.

When you select “Get directions” on the Directions menu, the app will ask you if you want to re-use saved directions.  If you say Yes, then you have to choose the start and end places for the directions from a list, rather than using the keyboard or speech recognition.  One reason you might do this is that the lists will probably be shorter, because they will only include places that you already have directions for.  So you might even choose to re-use directions when you don’t need to because you have an Internet connection.

5.3.2 Directions starting from your current location

This feature is for mobile devices that have a cellular connection to the Internet.  This will not work from a Wi-Fi only device, except in the somewhat rare case where you can get Wi-Fi outdoors.

Instead of asking for directions from Place A to Place B, you can also ask for directions from your current location to Place B.  Current location means the location that is currently established by GPS.  So this is something that you would typically do while you are outdoors.

When you select “Get directions” on the Directions menu, the app gives you the choice of starting from your current location, provided that the app knows your location at the time.

Another method of doing essentially the same thing is to go to the list of all your defined places, select the place for the destination, and then start navigation from there.

5.3.3 “Recalculating” directions

If you have an Internet connection while you are outdoors walking to your destination - which would usually be via a cellular connection - then you can, at any time, request a new set of directions to the destination from your current location, simply by going to the same “Get directions” item on the Directions menu.

This is a common feature in other navigation apps, but it is less likely with GetThere that you will need to “recalculate your route”, because GetThere quickly detects when you have gone off course, and immediately provides you with corrective directions to get back to the original route.

Nonetheless, if you are 100 meters away from the current route, and your device has an Internet connection, then GetThere will automatically recalculate a new route to your destination.

5.4 Stopping navigational guidance

After you have successfully reached your destination, you will want to turn off navigational guidance.  This helps conserve the battery life of your device, and, while I’m on that subject, you may also want to turn GPS off when you are indoors, also for battery life.  The other reason to turn off navigational guidance, of course, is that you will want the app to stop talking to you.

To stop navigational guidance, take the following steps:

5.5 Alarms

An alarm is a very simple navigational mechanism.  When an alarm is set on a given Place, the app tells you when you are getting closer to the Place.  A typical use is to help you know when to get off a bus.  This assumes that you have previously created a Place for the location of the bus stop.

You do not need to be connected to the Internet to set an alarm, nor to use an alarm.  And you do not even need to have the correct map for your area downloaded and selected, in order to use this feature.

You can set alarms on more than one Place.

To set an alarm, take the following steps:

There are 2 ways to find out which Places, if any, you have alarms set for.  One way is to go to the List of Places.  If you are using TalkBack, when you select a place, TalkBack will tell you that there is an alarm on a Place.  If you are sighted, the name of the Place is displayed in red if the Place has an alarm.  The other way is to select “Cancel an Alarm” from the Alarms menu; the “Cancel Alarm” screen only lists the names of Places that have alarms.

When you are traveling, GetThere tells you when you cross each of a series of distances from the Place.  This is the series: 1 kilometer, 500 meters, 200 meters, 100 meters, 50 meters, 25 meters, and 15 meters.  If you walk towards the Place, then walk away from the Place, and then walk towards the Place a second time, it is possible to hear an announcement twice for the same distance.  But only when you are getting closer, not when you are getting further away.

Your cell phone will vibrate for an alarm announcement, just as it does for a street announcement or for navigational guidance.

You can use the alarm feature by itself, or together with the other types of announcements.  For example, if you enable automatic street announcements, then you will get separate announcements for alarms and for intersections.  The 2 kinds of announcements will not interrupt each other.  However, each street announcement that you hear will include, at the end, a statement of how far you are for any alarm that you are within 1 kilometer of.  In that way, if you did not hear the alarm announcement, you can get the information afterwards, by selecting "Where am I" or by shaking your device, just as you could do if you did not hear other announcements.  Similarly, if you are getting navigational guidance towards a destination, each navigational guidance will include, at the end, a statement about your alarms.  Note that, if you set an alarm for your destination, then you will hear 2 different distances: the navigational guidance announcement gives you the distance along the streets of your route, but the alarm distance is in a straight line.

6 Credits

Map data is provided by the Open Street Map Project and the Open Street Map Foundation, a non-profit organization that makes map data available under the Open Database License, and also by the many contributors who have supplied the data.

Directions are provided by MapQuest and its Open Data services.

This user’s guide document is stored on Google Drive.

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to acknowledge the help from the following people: Arndt B, Aviel S, Claude J, Coscell K, Daniel G, Denis O, Eric H, Geofilho M, Henk A, Hezi E, Jim G, Juan B, Jürgen S, Kenneth H, Kiko L, Krister E, Mark G, Matej P, Meisam A, Michal S, Ollie M, Przemysław R, Sami M, Shmuel N, Wael Z, and Wendrill B.