Thursday, June 14, 2007

Wayfinder Access - GPS direction-finding for blind people

OK. This is cool. I've previously written about how visually impaired people are now really starting to use GPS to give an extra dimension of direction-finding in an article on Ouch: Don't scrimp on your access, you're a long time dead (15 March 2007)

I vaguely mentioned a product called Wayfinder in the article - couldn't do too much on it as it was on the BBC, no commercials please.

Since writing it though, a new product has been developed, it's called Wayfinder Access, read more about it here: Wayfinder Access on the TalkNav site

They've taken the original product aimed at the sighted market, worked with the blind community and turned it into a product that now speaks more (though you have to also be running the Talks or Mobile Speak mobile screenreader software) and worked it up into an interesting product.

That said, I've not had chance to test it out. But I believe it speaks more, gives more relevant info to people who can't see - such as what Points Of Interest are in the vicinity: pub across the road, cinema round the corner,church 100 yards further down the street etc.

So, going back to the start with a bit more detail.

Blind people are so gadgety and tech obsessed you wouldn't believe it - hardly surprising for a group whose computer is their pen, their newspaper, their accessible mail, their browsable shopping experience and more. Blind peple surely have the best gadgets?

Lots of us are now carrying around mobile phones with a bit of talking 'screenreader' software on it, e.g. Nuance Talks or the new Mobile Speak from Code Factory. These products can only work on certain phones: Symbian platform phones with Talks and I think Windows mobile platform with Mobile Speak (don't know enough about this product yet as it's fairly new). I use Nuance Talks on my Nokia N73.

To spell it out, screenreaders are bits of talking navigation software. They make your phone talk and have intelligent ways of helping you access the visual concepts. Blind people might just say "I've got a talking mobile" though :)

SMS, web surfing, creating and using phonebooks, they're the things visually impaired people typically use speech enhanced phones for.

Wayfinder Access, once installed on yer talking mobile, allows you to plot routes from A to B. You can review them at home before you leave if ya like. You also need a GPS satellite receiver. Mine, a very slimline and small Holux GPS receiver, is about the size of a packet of chewing gum, you can see it in the Ouch article I linked to at the top of this entry. It speaks to my phone using a Blue Tooth wireless connection. Easy as pie.

You apparently need to walk outside with your GPS reciever pointed skywards to lock onto the GPS satellites up there in low level orbit. Once it has a lock you can simply put the receiver in your jeans pocket ... so don't go imagining you need a big visible dish on your head. It's all very discrete. You won't look like a crippled Borg monster.

I'm going to be really interested to get this product and start using it. The big thing for a blind person about going out is usually that you need to know where you're going and what you want before you leave home. Mostly. The GPS map software will allow me to be a bit more adhoc, flexible, relaxed. I'll be able to find cafes that I didn't know were there, walk around and then ask the GPS phone to point me to the nearest tube station. Maybe even walk through a big wide-open park ... wide open areas with no pathways or landmarks are usually next to impossible to navigate through.

I'm getting mixed reports as to whether these systems work well in built-up areas though. This will be interesting to test. London could be a satellite blackspot for pedestrians. GPS receivers need 'line of sight' communication with satellites.

The next big thing being talked about is 3G direction finding. i.e. not just the use of a GPS but also extra help from mobile phone transmitters that, through a process of triangulation, can help you set coordinates in satellite blackspots ... which also includes indoors! GPS certainly won't work in Brent Cross or Blue Water shopping malls now will they. Be great when they do!I'll just drop a Point Of Interest marker outside each shop I want to visit then I'll be notified of them as I walk past them in future - not disimilar to what eyes and brains do if you think about it (oh, just for the sake of clarity, you can drop markers with Wayfinder too, plus share them via SMS to your mates)

Hope this was interesting or useful.

See my above Ouch article for more on the excellent Loadstone GPS project: A group of blind fellas who are creating a FREE piece of GPS software for mobile phones. At present you can only drop and share markers though, there are no maps so you can't tap in a postcode and get a route spurted out at you. Very useful though, take a look.

Wayfinder costs approx 260 pounds currently.


Katie said...

Ooh Ooh Ooh would this help me, do you think?

Sightie but really can't read maps, due to complex CP-related brain problems affecting telling left and right and stuff. I've got a bit of GPS stuff on my phone - type in where I am and where I'm going and it'll give directions in map form. But I still get rather confused while reading those maps... What I need is a talkie go left go right thing with landmarks on it...

Can I play with yours one day?

Damon said...

Yeah, sure! It's electronic speech though, not a human voice. Like JAWS. Actually it's exactly the same as JAWS>

BloggingMone said...

In Turin, in Italy they have started testing Easy Walk by IlVillage with 3000 blind people. It is a system which combines a GPS navigation and assisstance from a call center if needed. So if someone does not understand what the system is talking about, that person can be located by a call service where someone will direct you by talking to you on your phone.
What I find a bit over the top is that this service is actually called "guardian angel service".
In Germany they have, as far as I know, of course not done anything, except claiming in a few articles that all of the systems currently tested are not good enough to be of any use.
Hope Liam isn't worring about his job!

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