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Startup helps the blind navigate spaces in Tampa

Veronica Brezina

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Navigating streetscapes and buildings in complete darkness, due to visual impairment, is an overwhelming task that a new startup is solving for the City of Tampa. 

Chilean-based tech company Lazarillo creates accessible indoor and outdoor maps of public buildings and parks by using audio on a smartphone to guide people, essentially serving as a GPS system. 

In Tampa, the locations that will be included in the platform are the Old City Hall, the Tampa municipal office building and Julian B. Lane Park. 

“One of the biggest battles faced by people with disabilities is the struggle for increased access,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a news release. “Access for people with disabilities improves access for everyone. By implementing Lazarillo, the City of Tampa is taking the next big step in expanding opportunities for diversity and inclusion across city facilities.”

The city and startup will be hosting a media event Dec. 14 to address questions regarding the new partnership and demonstrate the technology. 

Lazarillo, founded by Rene Espinoza Jimenez, was a participant in a previous Tampa Bay Wave TechDiversity cohort. The maps were beta tested by local residents with disabilities, ensuring that they were accurate and addressed the needs of people that are blind, or have low vision. 

Jimenez told the St. Pete Catalyst that the company first engaged with the City of Tampa after participating in the cohort. They reconnected after Lazarillo responded to a request for proposals for an indoor navigation pilot program. 

The new partnership will be a 15-month pilot program. The app notifies users of points of interest at their location in real time. It also can guide the user to locations with measurements such as feet, yards and meters. 

“The project showcases the City of Tampa is willing to work with the tech companies Tampa Bay Wave is bringing to the region and it’s not only solutions for the city, but potentially to the state that can launch its own initiatives for respective communities,” said Cesar Hernandez, CEO of Omni Public and lobbyist for Lazarillo.

He said Lazarillo previously engaged with City of St. Petersburg about implementing the technology for the St. Pete Pier District, and are continuing to hold conversations. 

Lazarillo has worked with hospitals, universities, museums, smart mobility operators and shopping centers, according to its website, and has over 250,000 users. 

Earlier this year, Lazarillo announced partnerships with ride-sharing company Lyft and e-scooter companies. 

Jimenez is currently in the process of closing a $1 million seed round. The company previously closed a pre-seed round from grants and angel investors. 

The funding will help boost the company’s presence in countries – and its team, which currently consists of 29 employees. 

In addition to the platform serving the visually impaired, Jimenez it can also be used by those suffering from other disabilities as they can utilize the wayfinding map for buildings and public spaces. 

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