GPS for the visually impaired
Wayfinder Access was an innovative GPS solution from the Swedish company Wayfinder Systems AB. This application for Symbian phones was designed especially to work with screen readers, such as Mobile Speak from Code Factory or TALKS from Nuance Communications and offers text-to-speech technology. It is able to take the special needs of the blind and visually impaired into consideration. Symbian screen reader software offers more than just the reading of the application’s screens, but also supports Braille devices.
Highlights of Wayfinder Access include, but are not limited to:
- Information provided for both pedestrian and vehicular navigation.
- A database of 20 million points of interest.
- Online maps that are regularly updated.
- The "Where am I?" feature that readily gives information about your current location.
- The "What is in my surrounding?" feature that initiates a scan of the immediate area to inform you of street names, intersections and nearby points of interest such as restaurants, banks, and much more.
- The new “Vicinity View” feature that allows you to hear audible references for an area with a scope that you can later adjust based on the radius of the scanned vicinity.
- Feedback on points of Interest (POI), crossings or favorites that can be restricted, prioritized, and presented according to their distance from your location.
The Wayfinder Access Service has been shut down in 2011 after the company has been overtaken by Vodafone.
The Victor Trekker, designed and manufactured by HumanWare (previously known as VisuAide), was launched on March 2003. It is a personal digital assistant (PDA) application operating on a Dell Axim 50/51 or later replaced by HP IPAQ 2490B Pocket PC, adapted for the blind and visually impaired with talking menus, talking maps, and GPS information. Fully portable (weight 600g), it offered features enabling a blind person to determine position, create routes and receive information on navigating to a destination. It also provided search functions for an exhaustive database of point of interests, such as restaurants, hotels, etc.
The PDA's touch screen is made accessible by a tactile keypad with buttons that is held in place with an elastic strap.
Trekker and Maestro, which is the first off-the-shelf accessible PDA based on Windows Mobile Pocket PC, are integrated and available since May 2005.
The Trekker is no longer sold by Humanware; the successor "Trekker Breeze" is a standalone unit. The software has fewer features than the original Trekker.
Mobile Geo is Code Factory’s GPS navigation software for Windows Mobile-based Smartphones, Pocket PC phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Powered by GPS and mapping technology from the Sendero Group, a leading provider of GPS products for the blind, Mobile Geo is the first solution specifically designed to serve as a navigation aid for people with a visual impairment which works with a wide range of mainstream mobile devices. Though it is a separately licensed product, Mobile Geo is seamlessly integrated with Code Factory’s popular screen readers – Mobile Speak for Pocket PCs and Mobile Speak for Windows Mobile Smartphones .
The French company Kapsys offers a navigation system without a display, that works with speech input and output, called Kapten.
It was originally developed for cyclists but became favourite in blind communities soon because of its low price compared to other accessible navigation solutions.
Prof. W. Balachandran is the pioneer and the head of GPS research group at Brunel University. He and his research team are pursuing research on navigation system for blind and visually impaired people. The system is based on the integration of state of the art current technologies, including high-accuracy GPS positioning, GIS, electronic compass and wireless digital video transmission(remote vision) facility with an accuracy of 3~4m. It provides an automated guidance using the information from daily updated digital map datasets e.g. roadworks. If required the remote guidance of visually impaired pedestrians by a sighted human guide using the information from the digital map and from the remote video image provides flexibility.
The difficulties encountered includes the availability of up to date information and what information to offer including the navigation protocol. Levels of functionality have been created to tailor the information to the user’s requirements.