Thursday, August 11

Guide Dogs, Canes, and GPS Training?

One of my coworkers sent me this story by email and its unique enough that I thought I'd post it here. Please excuse any formatting errors. If you're interested in GPS training, then you should contact Leader Dogs for the Blind. Currently, they are not training with the PAC Mate's new Street Talk application, but it's only a matter of time before they do, if they want to stay open to PM users that is. Anyway, enjoy.

GPS device gives the blind new freedom to explore
Web-posted Aug 11, 2005
Of The Oakland Press

ROCHESTER - Two blind people are the first in the nation to be trained at Leader Dogs for the Blind on using a "revolutionary" portable Global Positioning
System to get wherever they want to go - whether that's a neighbor's house, a city park or a restaurant in Times Square.

The lightweight GPS device, called Trekker and manufactured by VisuAide, a division of Humanware of Longueuil, Quebec, is worn around the user's neck and
looks like a fancy calculator with up-and-down arrows and menu buttons to input data. A microphone close to the chin is attached to the Trekker around
the user's neck so he or she can give commands, ask questions and hear Trekker respond.

"I think the biggest fear of the blind is getting lost," said Al Paganelli of Las Vegas, who is undergoing Trekker training with Gail Selfridge of Denver.

"With GPS and Trekker, I'm not likely to get lost," said Paganelli. "Usually a blind person takes a job within walking distance of their home, but with
this technology, I can work and go anywhere.

"This completely revolutionizes the way blind people navigate."

The training takes five days, and the Trekker device costs $1,640, said Selfridge, who has been completely blind for 20 years.

"This is the talking version of a map," she said of Trekker.

Leader Dogs does not charge for the training and provides room and board for trainees. Selfridge and Paganelli both use guide dogs and started their training
Monday. The Trekker device will be used in conjunction with Paganelli's guide dog, Trouble, and Selfridge's dog, Maggie. It can also be used by a blind
person who prefers using a cane instead of a guide dog.

"This is going to change my life radically," said Selfridge. "Technology is changing faster and faster. I had no idea when I was growing up (in Melvindale)
that I was going to be able to do what I am doing, getting around so easily with so much information at hand."

The Trekker, which only works outdoors because it needs to have a clear line of sight to pick up signals from three orbiting satellites, can pinpoint exactly
where a person is in real time anywhere on the planet.

Users also can learn about area attractions and instantly get point-to-point directions to wherever they want to go, using maps stored within Trekker's

A variety of detailed maps are available covering most Western countries, a brochure from Humanware said. Maps can be bought and downloaded online, or ordered
and delivered on CD or Compact Flash cards.

Rod Haneline, director of services at Leader Dogs, said there already is a waiting list for training in the use of Trekker.

"We are providing services through this new training that is not available anywhere else in the country," said Bill Hansen, CEO of Leader Dogs.

"Over the years that we have provided dogs, the environment has become more complicated," said Harold Abraham, director of technical services at Leader
Dogs. "Hybrid cars are quieter than gas-powered vehicles, so there will always be a need for guide dogs."

It was noted that dogs can see an approaching vehicle and prevent a blind person from stepping in front of it - which a Trekker, of course, can't do.

In addition to pedestrian travel, Trekker has several other travel modes. For instance, while traveling in a car, cab or bus, Trekker will "speak to" owners
with their current locations, street crossings and vehicle speeds.

It'll also "tell" the user that a less-than-honorable cabbie is driving you in circles because Trekker is constantly mapping your position and will announce
"off route."

The device has a "free mode" for unmapped areas such as parking lots, business and college campuses or bodies of water. "Points of Interest" can be created
along a walking path and then detected on return trips, so users won't get lost. Trekker automatically signals when owners are coming back to a mapped
street network.

When Paganelli went outside a Leader Dogs building during a demonstration Wednesday, the Trekker was set to announce "Points of Interest." "Winchester Mall
is to your right," it told him through the microphone.

"This really isn't challenging to learn," Paganelli said of the Trekker system. "(But) it makes it easier if you know how to use a computer."

Trekker even helps when the user is hungry.

"If you walk into a hotel and say, 'I'm hungry and don't want to walk more than five minutes,' the Trekker will search 'Places of Interest,' " Haneline

"It'll then announce that there are five restaurants within the parameters the user set. Then, the Trekker can pin down the type of food you want by announcing
nearby restaurants, whether it's a pizza, a Mexican tortilla or a hamburger."

1 comment:

  1. Hi Wayne,

    When I was in Morristown last summer training with Boise, my travel partner was a real techie. He came there with two suitcases-- one for his clothes and one for all his gadgets. In the gadget bag, he carried a Trekker.

    Before coming to The Seeing Eye, he had loaded maps of New Jersey and, during some of our walks in town, he would use it. He gave it to me one day on one of the longer routes and I was impressed with the information it gave the user. The pre-loaded points of interest included tire shops, doughnut and coffee shops, as well as different types of restaurants. When I say different types of restaurants, I mean it would tell you "Joe's Mexican Restaurant" or "Leo's Greek Restaurant."

    What impressed me the most with the Trekker was the information it gave me. When I approached an intersection, it let me know before I got there that it was coming ahead so I had that knowledge before I got there. Even when a street name changed from one side of the street to the other, it said, "Approaching intersection. Smith Street on the left, Jones Street on the right."

    The unit I worked with did not have a microphone, but did use headphones. It was a lightweight Palm Model PDA that ran the software and the GPS antenna ran up along the strap going up my back.

    The mode where you use it in the car when traveling was interesting as you could learn the roads along a particular route or just get feedback of where somebody was taking you, like a cabbie.

    The unit was pricey, and that was probably its downfall, as this is the only adaptive use it had. I think the price for the software on the PAC Mate is a better deal as it is an add on the the FS hardware. I've followed some of Darrell Shandrow's adventures with his FS unit on his blog.

    Our trainer said that the Trekker manufacturer was going to make a presentation to some of the trainers at The Seeing Eye the week after we left where they would propose supplementing the normal Seeing Eye training with their product. I haven't heard any news of the outcome in any correspondence from The Seeing Eye, so don't have any idea how that went.

    Good post, Wayne!