Sendero Group Travel Blog

Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


Exciting next chapters for accessible GPS and Maps

Sendero is pleased to announce our plan to sustain the navigation technology developed with funding from ten federal grants and user input over 19 years. Many of you have been on the journey with us to create independent travel tools since 1999 and even earlier at Arkenstone. One of our goals from the beginning was to make accessible navigation affordable and ubiquitous. The next chapter in that evolution will be with two organizations dedicated to independent travel, Aira and the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco.

Sendero is thrilled to announce that it is transferring its iOS mobile navigation products to the company with the latest independent access to information, Aira. Mike May says, “Charles LaPierre and I founded Sendero in 1999 to provide ourselves and all blind people independent access to location information. The challenge to do that is as relevant today as it was 19 years ago. Accessible GPS in conjunction with Aira and its AI assistant, Chloe, provide a synergistic solution to full navigation access.”
We would also like to announce that the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco will take over the Sendero Maps and GPS product. Sendero CTO, Charles LaPierre says, "I am thrilled that Sendero Maps and GPS products will continue under the stewardship of Aira and the Lighthouse. In 1993, when I developed the first accessible GPS back-pack prototype weighing 10 pounds, I said ‘in 10 years it will be the size of a Sony Walkman(TM), which will fit in your hand’. I am honored that my university project 25 years ago evolved into the ‘Swiss Army knife of life’ smartphone version of today.”

Atlas Speaks from Arkenstone was the first accessible digital map product in 1995. That turned into Sendero Maps and GPS, which the San Francisco Lighthouse is taking over to complement its T-Maps tactile maps product. There is no better way to learn a neighborhood than to have the detail of digital maps and the geographic overview of a tactile map.

Details of these product transitions will be forthcoming. All of your products will continue to work the way you expect. The mobile apps are slated for new features.

The Sendero Maps software will remain the same but will now be available from the Lighthouse, which will also host the legacy BrailleNote and Braille Sense software. Other aspects of this transition will be announced by Aira and the Lighthouse as they come about.

Everyone from the Sendero Group team over the years thank all of you worldwide for being on this amazing journey, from back-pack to iPhone, from WayFun trips to conferences. Our motto from the beginning still rings true, “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.”

About Sendero
Developers of the first accessible GPS and talking map software. GPS products "Powered by Sendero" software provide access to detailed street and business location information. Sendero staff, most of whom are visually impaired, know from personal and professional experience that orientation and mobility skills and tools for blind folks are key to enjoyment and success in all walks of life.

About Aira
Aira is a service that uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality to connect blind and low-vision people to highly trained, remotely-located agents. At the touch of a button, Aira delivers instant access to information, enhancing everyday efficiency, engagement, and independence.

To learn more, visit
About Lighthouse
Headquartered in San Francisco, California, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired provides education, training, advocacy, and community for blind individuals in California and around the world. Founded and based in San Francisco since 1902, the LightHouse is one of the largest and most established comprehensive blindness organizations in North America, with a wide variety of programs to suit a wide variety of needs, as well as a rich network of blindness advocates and professionals.

To learn more, visit Lighthouse

Friday, September 21, 2018


Testing Loud Steps in O'Hare airport

Paul pausing briefly to check his progress on the Loud Step indoor navigation app at Chicago's O'Hare airport 
We visited O’Hare Airport Terminal 3 (Concourse K) to determine how effectively Loud Steps was operating. We met an O’Hare official at Security Gate 6 between Terminals 2 and 3 and proceeded to Concourses K. I was introduced to the functions of the test application and we used it to locate several destinations.  The four test routes were greater than 800 feet and the app demonstrated near perfect performance.

We tested the application’s ability to guide users from one concourse to another through the relatively crowded central common area shared by several concourses. In two such tests, I was able to navigate from Concourse K to Concourse L and back again. Further tests will be required to determine application accuracy for this task.

Paul heading towards the baggage claim.  The Loud Steps screen displays his next turn and direction of travelWe found that navigating within a concourse is relatively simple for individuals with visual impairments, given that concourse design and structure is similar and predictable across airports. For example, most concourses have a relatively easily followed central walkway containing sequentially numbered departure gates along both sides that are intermingled with store fronts and waiting areas. In addition, concourses generally contain many fellow travelers from whom supplemental wayfinding information can be readily solicited.

We did run into interference in the L Concourse apparently caused by the proximity of the air control cables to the iPhone.  We will be investigating this issue further.

Thursday, January 05, 2017


Consumer Electronics Show 2017

I have been attending CES since 1984 and reporting on it to the blind community since the late 90s, first on Playback Magazine and more recently on Tek Talk. I will do that again January 23 at 5 PM Pacific time.

Most of the products are not GPS but I can tell you about one I saw last night at the Press Unveiled event where there were dozens of very cool products.

There were two companies with pet tracking and activity monitors, kind of a FitBit for dogs. I have seen another company called WonderWoof the last couple years as well.

The one I liked last night is a company called Kyon. They have a relatively think rubber type collar with the electronics nicely built in. Other products tend to be a bit bulky. Besides Bluetooth and GPS, this collar has a mobile cell phone chip. It costs $249 and $4.99 per month for the tracking service.
 Kyon pet collarIllustration of collar connecting with mobile device
You can set the perimeter of your yard and if the dog goes outside of the yard, the tracker will show the dog’s position on a map. It also has a water and heat sensor that can trigger an alarm on your phone. It has an ultrasound generator that you can use to help train the dog not to bark or the like.

It comes in various sizes and colors. I will follow up and announce when it comes out.


Tuesday, January 05, 2016


CES Day 1: New AfterShokz Bluetooth headphones

I had my first day of electronics saturation here at the Consumer Electronics Show, starting with  the Unveiled event for the media. Most items are not GPS related so I will post them in a separate summary of the show and will probably do a webinar of the show highlights in the next month.

Trekz Titanium Bluetooth headphonesI did get my hands on the new Trekz Titanium Bluetooth headphones from AfterShokz. Electronically, they are the same as the most recent Bluez model S.

The big difference is the construction. As you might guess, they are made from Titanium with a light rubber coating. Instead of the previous band that was about a half inch wide, these are very thin. They are both lighter, thinner and more durable. They are more flexible but maintain the same sort of tightness necessary to stay firmly on your head.

The buttons are slightly different. Because they are thinner, I don’t think they exert as much pressure on your temples, making them more comfortable.

They also have a new mode whereby you can put earplugs in your ears in case you are in a noisy environment and don’t want to hear outside noises. There is an Equalization mode to switch to you when you do this. I haven’t tried this yet.

They also come with a nice case for better protection when carrying them in a bag.

I know they shipped to early purchasers. I believe they are backordered into February.

I also carry a single ear BlueAnt earphone in my bag but I really love the AfterShokz for both phone and GPS use.


Sunday, January 03, 2016


Navigating on and off the grid with custom POIs

Happy New Year’s Listers,

To offset all the holiday eating, we have been doing a lot of walking the past week, more than usual. We decided to explore a 6 mile route that starts on a major street, goes through some wetlands, through fields, parks, across a highway and a school before looping back to our house. It goes almost everywhere but Grandmother’s house.

bullrush on the Davis WetlandsThe last time I walked this route was 5 years ago. I remembered marking on my PK a number of the junctions in order to know where to cut across fields and parks. The starting point was labeled Pedestrian intersection between Covell Blvd and the Wetlands. We took an Uber to a place about a quarter mile from that starting point. I had my PK GPS running with the USA User points on board. Good thing that point was there because it was no more than a break in the bushes off a very busy road with no people around to ask. I was with my wife Gena and our two Seeing Eye dogs. My dog Tank may have been on this route when I first got him 5 years ago.

It was one of those very chilly but sunny type of days but we were dressed for the occasion. We did pass other walkers and bikers but we wanted to find our way without asking and it would have been hard to describe what we were looking for anyway. The only time we thought of asking for help was when the restroom I had marked in my PK was locked and we wondered where another was.

I should have recorded a manual route for the next time we did this route but navigating from User POI to User POI worked fine. We didn’t even make a wrong turn the whole way.

This is a reminder to me when I visit new places to be generous in marking User Points as I never know when I will return and wish I had those points. I have User points recorded around the world going back to the mid-90s. One of my favorite user points I found was not mine but one recorded by Rich Irwin. We were traveling up a river in Costa Rica with my PK wrapped in plastic and a point triggered saying alligator sighting and beer shack. Of course, the alligator was no longer in that spot but we did see one further along. The beer shack was still there however. If you ever head to the Pachira lodge in Costa Rica, you will find both my points and those from Rich and maybe others.

If you ever visit Davis, rest assured we can go where we want when we want with or without sighted friends, even off the grid.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Thoughts and tips on using Uber with a guide dog by Mike May

I believe that rideshare services and Uber in particular are the best independence tool for blind people invented this century. As with any such “tool”, especially a disruptive one, there is misinformation and there is room for improvement.

The Uber iPhone app is quite accessible. I give them beta feedback and know that they work quickly to fix any small problems that arise as the result of the app evolving regularly. There are plenty of things to improve but the app is accessible and easy to use as you will see from my frequent use below.

Tank and Yulie enjoying an Uber rideHere is my perspective on Uber services as a frequent traveler and guide dog user. My wife also uses a guide dog from the Seeing Eye and we are often together with two dogs in an Uber. We have faced only 3 rejections by Uber in our over 700 combined Uber rides. Compare this with our taxi experience where many won’t even stop when they see a dog and others outright refuse to let the dog in the taxi. In my experience in taxis, I face 20% to 40% rejection as opposed to less than 1% with Uber.

I know a few guide dog users report much higher rejection with Uber and Lyft and others who have never had a problem. Uber has a 2-strikes and you are out policy. The driver gets one warning and if they reject a service dog a second time, they are removed from the Uber platform. It is easy to report an infraction from within the app or by emailing or by replying to the email receipt. In the few times I have had a rejection, Uber Support was emailing and calling me within a few hours. If there was a cancelation charge, it was quickly refunded.

My understanding is that all drivers receive an email when they sign up telling them about the service dog policy as well as reminders over time. Of course, not all drivers read and understand these emails so it is inevitable that a few will be uninformed. Uber staff attended several blindness conferences in the past year to hear directly from blind riders and to exchange information about the service including finding ways to make it better. Even 1% rejection is not fun for the person who has to face the inconvenience and humiliation of the experience but I like these odds way better than the random taxi, which might reject my dog and which can be slow in arriving and risky to pay.

There are two types of rejection. Some drivers believe that they don’t have to take a dog in their private car. They might claim that they or their family has an allergy. They might be genuinely afraid of dogs. They may not have read the email or Uber policy saying that these are not reasons to deny a service dog in their vehicle.
I have a few strategies to reduce the likelihood of dog rejection with Uber or Lyft.

  1. Check to see if Uber Access is one of the app options. If so, choose the Assist option from the sub-menu and then check the ETA. If the arrival time is reasonable, use Assist as these are top drivers who have had to watch a training video about riders with disabilities. Be aware if you choose Uber Pool, that this is a shared ride and your dog will count for one of the available spots in that car-pool. I tend to avoid Pool in favor of Uber X.
  2. When the Uber ETA is about 2 minutes, then use the Contact Driver option to text the following message. “I am blind and have a licensed Guide Dog. Please call out my name when you see me.” I do not phone the driver because they may not hear or understand the difference between dog and Guide Dog. If the message is in writing, they have more time to think about it and you are on record giving them the information. They can’t claim they didn’t understand. I write the text ahead of time and copy it into the iPhone clipboard so it is easy to paste into the Contact Driver text message box. I send the text when the driver is only a few minutes away so they will consider the time and money they will lose if they cancel the ride.
  3. I carry a laminated card with the word Uber in large letters to hold up in situations where it might be hard to find me like a grocery store parking lot.
  4. I make sure and hold the harness when the driver is approaching so they don’t think it is a pet dog. It is still sometimes necessary to say to the driver, “I am blind. I cannot see. This is my trained guide dog who is very calm and clean.”
  5. I believe it is useful to keep the dog on a very short leash when getting in the car so they don’t sniff the driver or get on the seat. Some drivers are terrified of dogs and we can’t change that in 30 seconds. If the dog is quiet and on the floor of the car, the driver can relax and proceed with the ride. Having the dog on the floor also reduces the dog hair the driver will have to deal with. Grooming the dog before a trip is a good idea. Some drivers may have a sheet or towel to put on the seat or floor. I carry a small sticky roller to pick up hair. Just offering to use this makes the driver feel that I am being considerate. We have to remember that they rate us same as we rate them.
  6. Although Uber does not have an option for a tip in the app, I will tip in cash if the driver has to deal with excess dog hair or wet paw prints because of rainy weather.
  7. Many drivers are afraid of dogs and may express reluctance when you open the door of their car. I get the dog on the floor quickly so the driver can’t change their mind and I make sure my dog doesn’t sniff them. Once we are rolling, I make casual conversation, which may include information about the dog’s training, flying on airplanes and so forth. I make sure the dog stays put during the ride. I had a driver ask to take a selfie with my dog because he said his wife wouldn’t believe that he had a big German Shepherd 6 inches behind his head for 30 minutes. My goal by the end of the ride is to convert these concerned drivers into amazed believers. Think of ourselves as ambassadors.

I rate almost all drivers 5 stars but I do add comments, both constructive and glowing as appropriate. Those comments are passed along to the driver anonymously. I have even gone to the trouble of filling out the form to recommend a driver for the Uber 6 star award for service above and beyond the call of duty.

Most drivers are courteous and professional, are on time and have nice vehicles. Many do go above and beyond. We have dealt with two family emergencies using multiple Ubers to shuttle us and the kids to the hospital and home. We used Uber 8 times to facilitate our recent trip to Disneyland. As two blind parents, we use Uber all the time to shuttle our kids to and from activities. I have had as many as 5 business meetings in Silicon Valley in a day made possible by timely Uber transportation. I have used Uber in 8 countries and dozens of cities so far. A couple drivers have even become friends. We are willing to put up with the very occasional Uber issue because of their 99% excellence. It is because of this great service that I am willing to do what I can to suggest improvements in the app, to share my experience with other blind riders and to recommend changes that will better educate drivers.

Mike May, Davis, CA,


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