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CSUN Assistive Tech Conference 2024

This week Steve and I had great fun attending the CSUN Assistive Tech Conference in Anaheim, California. I’ve been going for well over a decade, originally introduced to it by the awesome Donald Burr. This conference is dedicated to technological advances in support of living a great life with visual, audio, mobility, and cognitive challenges. The conference is all week long, and while it includes sessions for concentrated learning, Steve and I only attend the exhibit hall and we only go for one day. It’s a bit of a whirlwind but it’s always worth it.

We recorded 11 interviews from the show which was a record for us. As you may have noticed, we’re still pushing out the interviews from CES. With this overlap, we’ve decided to interweave them so you’ll hear both CES and CSUN interviews within the same episode over the coming weeks.

I wanted to note just a couple of things from the conference and then let the interviews tell the story of what we learned.

Glide Self-Guided Mobility Aid

We recently played for you an interview with Amos Miller, Cofounder and CEO of Glidance about the self-guided mobility aid designed for people with sight loss called Glide. You’ll have either heard me on the podcast or watched me in the video actually using Glide to walk at a very brisk pace in a crowded hallway at CES with my eyes closed. I talked about how well it detected obstacles such as posts and walls, and even other people including Steve purposely getting in my way. When I got near these obstacles, Glide gently started turning the wheels which put pressure on my wrist indicating a suggested maneuver to get around the obstacles.

I was amazed at how well it worked and it was one of the most interesting things we saw at CES.

I bring all this up because Amos and his team were at CSUN, and Steve and I made a point to go over and talk to Amos again. He was busy, so we started chatting with one of his assistants we’d met at CES. I’m disappointed to tell you what he told us. During CES, they weren’t really quite ready for prime time with the sensors and electronic feedback in the programming to let people really use the device for real.

When I was happily toodling up and down that hallway thinking Glide was sensing objects and steering me around them, this gentleman was using a game controller to drive Glide. It wasn’t sensing obstacles and giving feedback from those sensors to tell me how to steer around them, the man with the remote control was doing all of that.

I was quite deflated after learning this and felt … not exactly lied to but seriously misled.

What I can say is that the feedback that the user will experience was real. When the wheels turned, I could feel exactly what it was telling me to do and it was very natural to follow Glide’s lead. This is a very important part of the design. However, I think they really should have told me that it was being remotely driven. When the gentleman realized that I didn’t know he’d been driving it, he said the same thing – that I should have been told.

I don’t want to turn you against the company but I didn’t want you to think I had intentionally misled you.

Stevie Wonder

Let’s cleanse our palates from that disappointment with two fun things from CSUN. Guess who goes to CSUN every single year? Stevie Wonder! As you probably know, Mr. Wonder is blind, so this is a great conference for him to attend. We’d heard for several years that we had just missed him, but this year he was there at the same time as we were.

We liked that he didn’t get mobbed, but rather a small number of people gathered around him and just a few people asked to have their photos taken with him. We decided to respect him and let him be, but it didn’t stop me from taking a photo to prove we weren’t making this story up.

Steview Wonder wearing his black glasses, black leather hat and long hair over one shoulder. A small group of people are with him
Stevie Wonder Enjoying CSUN

Lunch with Friends

But better than seeing a celebrity was enjoying lunch with friends. Every year we end up with a different combo of old and new friends. This year it was our great pleasure to meet NosillaCast contributors and hosts of their own podcast called Unmute Presents, Marty Sobo and Michael Babcock. We’ve known them through the shows for ages, and they’ve even had me on their show to talk accessibility, but there’s nothing like meeting in person. They were with two friends of theirs. Patrick Burton has a product called Benvision. BEN stands for Binaural Experience Navigator, and it’s a set of glasses with speakers built into them that provides a sort of sonar experience, allowing the wearer to experience their surroundings through musical representation. It sounds crazy cool.

The other person at lunch was Chris Cooke. She’s a blind tech nerd who works for the Oregon Commission for the Blind and tests out everything for the visually impaired. She was absolutely delightful. She let me take a photo of her accessible watch which was cool. The crystal over the watch face flips up, and then you can feel the hands with your fingertips along with little bumps for each hour.

Gold BRaille watch with the cover open so you can feel the watch face and hands
Chris’s Accessible Watch

She also modeled her Envision Glasses. These glasses are built on Google Glass Enterprise Edition and allows you to easily scan text and have text read out to you. The thing that Chris really likes about Envision is that you can get integration with Aira, which is a service with real humans who will watch for you as you’re walking around and guide you. Imagine trying to find your gate at an airport without being able to see. Now imagine someone else is seeing through Google Glass and able to tell you in voice how to navigate such a situation. It’s like having a friend right there with you at all times. Michael and Marty chimed in that they think Aira is an extraordinarily useful service for their own navigation even without the Envision glasses.

Chris with her head at an angle to me showing the Google Glass lens ane thick side frames for battery and speakers
Chris Showing off the Envision Glasses Made from Google Glass

I hope to get Chris on the show sometime soon to do some gadget reviews for us. She does her own podcast but sadly I didn’t write it down. When I find out out what it is I’ll be sure to let you know.

As I said CSUN was a whirlwind in all of the best ways. Stay tuned for some great interviews.

2 thoughts on “CSUN Assistive Tech Conference 2024

  1. Niraj - March 24, 2024

    In many ways, you validated the Human-Machine Interface (HMI) of the Glide device.

    Indeed they neglected tell you about the remote control person.

    How close are they to a public release? 2024 (this year), or beyond?

  2. Allison Sheridan - March 25, 2024

    That’s a very succinct way to describe what I did experience, Niraj. As far as release, they said in January that they hoped to go into beta in March, but I think they told us it would be more like fall before it’s in beta. Don’t hold me to that though.

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