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New Technology Tells Blind People the Way to Go

New Technology Tells Blind People the Way to Go

The convergence of two technologies is set to create an invaluable tool hich will empower blind and sight impaired New Zealanders, giving them greater security and independence.

The development brings together Global Positioning System (GPS) software, which works via satellite to give exact positioning data, and the Braille Note, a portable, computerised notebook already used by many blind and sightimpaired people throughout the country.

With the addition of the new GPS software and a small receiver, the Braille Note becomes a powerful and invaluable device to assist blind and sight impaired people to navigate their way independently.

The process begins by first entering a series of landmarks and other
specific pieces of information as 'waypoints'. One 'waypoint' might be the user's front door, while another is the bus stop down the road. After the initial entering of the data as 'waypoints', the map can be replayed to act as a verbal announcement device that 'speaks' to the user.

"You end up with a verbal map of your environment," explains Maurice Sloane, Braille Note Product Manager of Pulse Data International, the company that developed the Braille Note and is behind the introduction of the GPS software in New Zealand.

"When users are walking down the street, the software will tell them that they are five metres away from an intersection, or that the local grocery store is on the left."

The GPS software will be invaluable not only in terms of navigation, but also for safety. Users will be able to enter notes to warn them about of low-hanging branches, cracks in the footpath, and other obstacles and hazards.

The Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind (RNZFB) is thrilled with the advancement, which will have a profound impact on blind and sight impaired people's ability to live independently, empowering them to meet the challenges of sight loss.

"The technology is going to give so many people so much more independence, I can't wait to get my hands on one," says Chris Orr, member of the RNZFB.

"There's so much information that sighted people take for granted, like finding the nearest public telephone or public toilets, and specific shops. But, now we'll have access to it too."

The GPS software was the brainchild of Mr Mike May, a sight impaired American. In July of this year, Mr May approached Pulse Data with the concept of combining the two technologies.

Since then, the Christchurch based company has been working closely with Mr May to develop the software, which is currently in the final stages of development.

"Blind and sight impaired people have normally relied on the use of canes, electronic obstacle detectors and guide dogs to assist them when they're out and about. This new software is going to complement those while offering a new richness of information," says Mr Sloane.
The GPS software has been trialled in the U.S. with huge success and Pulse Data aims to release it to New Zealanders early next year.
In the future, the software will also have the ability to announce any points of interest to the user, including any museums, parks or restaurants within a half kilometre radius. This has been implemented in the U.S. where points of interest files are readily available due to the growing use of GPS navigation systems in cars.

Mr Mike May is currently visiting New Zealand to work with Pulse Data and meet with RNZFB staff and members to demonstrate the new equipment.


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