NFC, or Near Field Communications, is great for paying for things with a phone or watch. But wouldn't it be great if you could apply that same technology to a sign and learn more about where you are or what is around you? Jessica Hipp, Marketing Director for WayAround, explains the company's vision for doing just that. She also shows J.J. how using tags can be used to label shirts, objects, food and so many other items around the home. To learn more about the company, and download their free app, visit the WayAround Website.
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Transcribed by Grecia Ramirez
Direct from St. Louis, it’s blindbargains.com coverage of ACB 2018, brought to you by Google
Our friends at Google are working hard to create great technology products for everyone. They’re inviting you to participate in Google user research studies, where you can help shape the future of accessible products and features and get rewarded for it. Check out our tweet for the sign-up link, at blind bargains, or head to google.com slash user research.
Now, here’s J.J. Meddaugh.
J.J. MEDDAUGH: ACB, 2018. I found Jessica Hipp. She’s the marketing director for WayAround. WayAround is a company that uses tags to help you identify things using a smartphone. Now, Jessica, welcome to the podcast.
JESSICA HIPP: Thank you so much for having me.
JM: So I’ll go ahead and let you describe exactly what we have here.
JH: Yes. WayAround is a tagging system. It works with your smartphone, either an iPhone or an Android, and we have smart WayTags, which use NFC technology. They come as stickers, magnets, buttons, and clips so you can attach them to just about anything and everything around your home and office. And then, you use the app to add information to the smart tag so that you can easily scan them.
JM: Okay. And so there’s two ways that you can do this; right? You actually have an actual stand-alone -- or not stand-alone – a device that you can use to scan things, and you also can scan it directly from your phone?
JH: That’s correct. So a lot of phones have a built-in NFC reader, or near-field communication. IPhone 7 and above has it; most Androids have it.
JM: This is what you would use – the same thing for ApplePay or AndroidPay, for those of who might be unfamiliar.
JH: Exactly. And so you can scan directly with the phone. We also have a WayLink, which is an external scanner. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth, and it just lets you scan a lot faster. And you can be about 50 feet away from your phone. If you have your phone docked somewhere, you can take the scanner around with you. It’s about the size of a credit card, half an inch thick or so, and is really easy to clean if you’re in your kitchen, easy to transport, it’s a great device.
JM: Okay. So you have these different tags, like you said. They would attach to clothing or to cans or whatever, pretty much, or –
JH: Exactly. All of the tags are about the size of a quarter or a postage stamp. The buttons are – they’re completely waterproof, you can put them through the washer, the drier. They’re –
JM: Would you sew them on?
JH: You can sew them on, and we also have a style that you can safety pin on.
JH: The safety pin style can also be used with a rubber band, and you can put it on frozen food and stick it in the freezer.
JM: And that’s good because then, you could reuse the tag so you don’t have to keep buying new tags every single time, at least for – in those styles; right?
JH: Exactly. You can edit any of the information you put on there. If you make a typo, you can make a small edit, you can completely rewrite the information and use it on a different item.
JM: And how much room is there for information?
JH: You can put about 2000 characters in the description, which is a couple of typed pages in Word. So that’s a lot of information. Some people do like to put instructions. For example, one of our founders has tagged all of his remote controls. So he can put the sequence of buttons to turn on the TV and then say, switch to another remote to set up the sound system.
JM: Very cool. Now, we have this set up here, and we have the – on a Bluetooth speaker, of course, because it’s loud in the exhibit hall, so why don’t you just go ahead and scan something, and I’ll bring the recorder towards the speaker, and we’ll pick it up?
COMPUTERIZED VOICE: TV remote for downstairs: Turns on TV and changes channels. Use other remote for movies and surround sound.
JM: So there you go. Like, just as you were talking about it, you hear a beep – did the beep come from that little device?
JH: The beep did come from the device, and my phone actually vibrates a little bit. So we’ve added a lot of audio and tactile information so that you know when it’s read and that you’ve actually connected with the information.
JM: So do you have to open the app first, and then do it, or –
JH: You do have to open the app first. It’s WayAround Tag and Scan on iPhone and on Android.
JH: Once you’re in, it’s completely compatible with VoiceOver, TalkBack, as well as any other accessibility features like a reverse screen color that you might have.
JM: So you’re recommending – the app is free, of course?
JM: And you’re recommending – I mean, that they do buy the little accessory as well?
JH: I really prefer using the little accessory. It’s called a WayLink.
JH: It’s about a hundred dollars, and it will make your life easier if you’re scanning a lot of things, which we hope you do. If you’re trying to get dressed in the morning and scanning to find exactly the right shirt, to be able to just scan item after item very quickly is – it’ll save you a lot of time.
JM: And you do have just the tags, so maybe if someone wanted to try it out before they delved into buying it – that – the WayLink, they could just get the tags as well; right?
JH: Exactly. The tags are all about a dollar apiece. You can buy them on our website at wayaround.com. We do have a starter pack that gives you a sampling of all of the different types of WayTags. You get 60 tags for $50, so it’s a great way to try it out for not too much money.
JM: And the way the tags are, just because of the coding, you can’t use any NFC tag. You have to get the ones from WayAround to use with this system; right?
JH: Yes. That’s correct. And all of the data is backed up into your account, which is stored in the Cloud. So if you ever get a new phone, all you would do is download the WayAround to your new phone, log in, and all of your information is right there.
JM: So you can – that’s great. So you can use it across devices as well, or a couple different phones?
JH: Exactly. And some people, you know, even would create a log-in for their home, if there’s multiple people in the same house and they want to share the information.
JM: You also talked about a vision you have for this company, as far as expanding this to public spaces, signs, things like that.
JH: Exactly. WayAround was actually started by two architects with vision loss. And their vision, the entire time, has been to make public spaces inside more accessible. And while there’s a lot of people working on wayfinding, getting from point A to point B, they really see the need of, once you’re at point B, what’s immediately around you. You know, if you’re at suite 103, how do you get to higher numbers, how do you get to lower numbers, where is the emergency exit? So if you’re able to get to an ADA sign in the future, you’ll be able to scan that sign with the same app, same technology that we’re using for WayAround and get information that’s pertinent about your immediate environment in a building.
JM: Is there a standardized symbol, or do you envision trying to create one to say, hey. This is a sign with a WayAround tag on it?
JH: We do. We have several patents pending, and we’re working with a couple of different organizations to develop exactly what that standard symbol is so that people will know easily, this space is equipped with WayAround. And ultimately, we want every space in the United States, and even internationally, to be equipped with this technology.
JM: Okay. If people want to get more information about WayAround, what’s the best way to do that?
JH: Yes. Just visit our website. It’s wayaround.com. We have all sorts of information there, including a user guide, community forums. If you have ideas for WayAround, we’d love to hear from you. All of the leadership team, as well as our programmers, read the forums, so please let us know if something’s not working. If you have an idea, or if you just want to connect with us and learn more about WayAround.
JM: Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
JH: Well, thank you for having me.
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Joe Steinkamp is no stranger to the world of technology, having been a user of video magnification and blindness related electronic devices since 1979. Joe has worked in radio, retail management and Vocational Rehabilitation for blind and low vision individuals in Texas. He has been writing about the A.T. Industry for 15 years and podcasting about it for almost a decade.