With COVID-19 repelling people from touchscreen kiosks as a potential germ transmitter, BindiMaps co-founder Mladen Jovanovic says his startup’s app is the GPS solution for our times.
Using a network of Bluetooth beacons, smart-phone sensors, a route guidance system, an efficient audio system and other technologies, BindiMaps is a navigational tool, for mostly indoor spaces, that has been optimised to assist people with visual impairments.
However, it can be used by anyone looking to make their way around a supported BindiMaps location.
Jovanovic says because of COVID-19, some shopping centres are now putting barriers around their wayfinding kiosks because they know they are unsanitary.
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“They are also outdated, difficult to find and often not accessible — particularly for people who are visually impaired,” Jovanovic tells SmartCompany.
“Someone recently told one of our employees that in the case of a fire, they must wait inside a goods lift until someone comes to get them. In my opinion, that’s not acceptable in this day and age.
“There’s a huge number of people with some form of disability and no one is looking to solve this problem, so a service like this is absolutely essential.”
After launching in 2017, BindiMaps is being used across six states and operates in about 20 centres, including in the office of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Stockland Shopping Centre, Camberwell Place Shopping Centre and the South Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet.
To ensure that the app is free to use, the startup’s revenue model relies on a subscription model from the locations using their service.
Already covering over 150,000 square-metres, Jovanovic says the business was in the process of a national rollout but, with COVID-19, “everything came to a halt.”
“We don’t want [COVID-19] to be the reason for our growth, but we want to help people navigate [these spaces] independently, safely and efficiently during this time,” he says.
“Everyone is moving to a world of contactless payments and restricted contact, and this is the perfect and cost-effective [navigational] solution.”
“What we could do would be lifesaving”
Jovanovic joined the startup — then called Banjo Maps — after crossing paths with co-founder Dr Anna Wright.
Dr Wright was previously diagnosed with a rare eye disorder, with doctors telling her that she would eventually become blind.
According to Jovanovic, that process got Dr Wright thinking about how she would perform daily tasks, including going to the shops. After a bit of brainstorming, she then came up with the indoor navigational app.
“I was studying at the University of Technology Sydney, and she was a senior lecturer. At the time, I had my own startup — a software company for the construction industry — but I heard about the awesome work she was doing, and started completing little tasks here and there,” he says.
“I did customer research interviews and one, in particular, was about a lady in Brisbane, and some of the horrific struggles she was going through. She said that, if it was possible, what we could do would be lifesaving. After hearing about its potential impact, I jumped on board.”
“A lot of companies build a program then try to make it accessible, but accessibility is at the forefront of everything we do.”
BindiMaps went through the SheStarts accelerator program, and raised $100,000 in seed funding. After building the technology, deploying it at the University of Technology Sydney, and “mak[ing] sure it was running right”, the startup raised a further $1 million, which was used to expand the team and start the nationwide rollout.
BindiMaps is now looking to raise $3 million in Series A funding which, Jovanovic says, would help to fund international expansion.
“We’re doing a lot of work, and seeing where the smartest place to expand might be. The Nordic countries are receptive to tech that’s for-purpose and for-profit, they are predominately English speaking, and they are really at the forefront of accessible technologies,” he says.
“We’re also looking to grow our team, and try to get the technology installed in as many places as possible.”
As BindiMaps is an anonymised service, the startup isn’t able to identify the demographics using the app. However, Jovanovic says the public response is almost always, “why doesn’t every shopping centre have it?”
He adds that the Bluetooth beacons are installed using double-sided adhesives, and can be established in a location within 24 hours.
“We understand the urgency of this situation, and that shopping centres are looking for innovative ways to get people through the doors,” he says.
“So we’re trying to show the world why BindiMaps is useful and to get the word out there.”