Week 1 (May 25-29)

The first week of my DREU experience has consisted of (1) getting familiar with the existing AccessMap codebase and (2) conducting extensive research on mobile applications for visually impaired users, specifically navigation applications.

I was able to get introduced to the existing codebase by one of Dr. Caspi’s current undergraduate researchers. Dr. Caspi’s school is on the quarter system, which means that students that are conducting academic year research with her are still working on their projects. I have been able to sit in on the past two research group meetings in order to gain familiarity with other researchers and their projects. I received an in-depth tour of the code for the AccessMap React Native application that is currently being developed. Throughout Monday and Tuesday, I was primarily concerned with familiarizing myself with the AccessMap and OpenSidewalks code and larger ideas; I looked over a document meant to help cities import their sidewalk data to the OpenSidewalks project and provided comments.

For the rest of the week, I worked on a literature and application review. I sought out popular, highly-rated iOS and Android applications that help visually impaired people become familiar with their surroundings and create routes between different points of interest. These applications include BlindSquare, NearbyExplorer, SeeingEye GPS, and Autour. I sought out reviews of these applications from their users and explored their user manuals, as well as downloaded all of the free applications and tested them on my own device, using VoiceOver. I am currently located in a suburban area with not much pedestrian access, so I hope to drive to nearby urban areas to properly test the applications’ capabilities, especially when it comes to routing.

Finally, I embarked on a journey into the academic literature surrounding urban outdoor navigation for visually impaired people, with an emphasis on recently published proceedings/papers (2016 onwards). Even with these constraints, I have amassed just about 35 papers, which I have read and taken notes on. The literature seems to be fairly robust and takes very seriously the expressed needs of visually impaired people.

For next week, I will be working on three main goals: (1) solidifying my project proposal; (2) creating theoretical prototypes/wireframes of a version of AccessMap tailored to visually impaired users; and (3) playing around with the AccessMap code to understand the varying degrees of difficulty that would be associated with modifying the application for visually impaired users.

Written on May 29, 2020