An Irish company is testing new technology that could revolutionise navigation for the blind. Point The Way is conducting early tests of its phone application that helps visually impaired users follow GPS directions easily.
The application uses a phone’s built-in GPS receiver and compass to gauge its location. It then vibrates when the phone is pointed in the correct direction, allowing users to follow a route by touch.
“A normal GPS may say ‘go straight’, which makes sense to most people but may not to a blind person,” says Tim Walsh, director of Point The Way. “Our tool will let them put it in their breast pocket and follow it quite easily.”
The company is currently running a small trial in conjunction with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland but is hoping to expand this soon. As part of this, it is already in early stage talks with manufacturers like Motorola, which has an accessibility programme in the US.
Another application designed by Walsh is being used to assist Team Daft.ie in this year’s Round Ireland Yacht Race. It was developed as an extra safety precaution to track the boat in case of emergency as one of its crew, Mark Pollock, is blind.
“It basically looks at the GPS location and texts it off to a particular number, we pick up that on our database and pull it into Google Maps,” says Walsh. “SMS is a very robust way of doing things as it requires the least signal and battery power to work . . . it means we get updates every five minutes compared to every 20 on the official race trackers update.”
The phones used were provided by O2 and run on Google’s Android system. As part of this agreement Point The Way is also recording mast signal details so O2 can gauge the quality of its network in coastal regions.
Walsh says that while the application started as a side-project, he now sees commercial potential to it. “When I built it it didn’t occur to me, but I realised this is actually quite useful.”
This article originally appeared in The Irish Times on 2nd July 2010