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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Killer Combo

Blind Confidential has devoted a lot of time to GPS Programs and
how people with vision impairment can use them. Recently, I've been
using a combination of three off-the-shelf products along with Mobile
Geo from Code Factory. Over the coming weeks,
I will write three or four pieces about various GPS solutions
available today for people with vision impairment. These will include
Mobile Geo from Code Factory, Wayfinder Access and the free Lodestone
available for the Symbian platform.

This article, however, will describe a collection of gadgets that I've
assembled which, in my opinion, makes using a talking GPS system very
comfortable for pedestrian travel. I will briefly touch upon some of
the features in Mobile Geo and a comprehensive survey of its features
and functions will come at a later piece in which I compare it to the
other software products I mentioned above.

The first of the off-the-shelf products necessary to have for a
comfortable talking navigation experience is either a Windows Mobile
Smart phone or a Symbian smart phone. Mobile Geo runs on Windows Mobile
handsets and the other two need Symbian phones. For purposes of
this rather informal first round of tests, I used a T-Mobile Dash, a
phone I've been using for about two years now. In this article, the
handset has little importance as I'm not comparing a performance of
one system versus another. In the subsequent articles, the Symbian
products will have a distinct advantage because they will be run on a
brand-new and very high-end Nokia phone.

The second item I added to the collection is a GPS receiver from
Holux, the M1200, an adorable little device that weighs no more than a few grams
and, in a wide open space, can gather data from 20 or more different
sattelites. This receiver communicates with the handset via Bluetooth
and performs very well while sitting in a pocket of a warm winter
coat. My only criticism of this device is that it has horrible
documentation. The package includes a mini cd containing the manual
and quick-start guide – upon opening the box, you should take this cd
and throw it away immediately as reading any of its contents will do
nothing more than cause confusion. The Holux receiver has only one
control, and on off switch. Pushing the switch up toward the keychain
loop turns it on; pushing it in the opposite direction turns it off.
You now have all the information you need to use this device
effectively.

The third item is the Jawbone Bluetooth earbud-type headset available
at your local Best Buy for about $100. This remarkable little item pops
into one of your ears with its other end, about an inch and a half
forward, resting against your cheek. Unlike most, if not all, other
Bluetooth headsets for mobile phones, the Jawbone has no microphone
in the traditional sense of the word. A part of it that rests against
your cheek picks up the vibrations from your jaw as you speak and
translates it into audio information – effectively functioning like a
microphone but without taking up any external noise. While I
haven't tested this particular claim, the Jawbone marketing materials
say that one can use it in an automobile with its windows open at over
50 mph and be heard clearly by the person to whom you are speaking.

With all three of these gadgets turned on and the Code Factory
software running on my handset, I set off to explore how well it
worked here in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Before trying any of the
numerous features available in Mobile Geo, I just launched it and
started walking around the neighborhood with my dog. I know this area
very well so I did not need any mapping and routing information. The
default spoken data was very helpful in that I did not have to keep
track of how many streets I had crossed to know how far I had walked,
and how near I was to a turn I needed to make.

The default point of interest (POI) database contains a remarkably
large number of very useful bits of information about one's
surroundings. As I walked through Harvard Yard, individual buildings
and even some statues were announced as I approached them. As wide-
open spaces like the Yard tend to be problematic for GPS systems as
there are no roads but, rather, winding paths, finding Widener Library
seemed virtually impossible with other software I have tried in the
past which, their vendors claimed, was the result of my moving at less
than 5 mph. Even in the company of my guide dog, I don't spend much
time running fast enough for the other GPS software to calculate a
heading that it can use to accurately locate something on the ground.
The Code Factory and Sendero teams should be commended for their
excellent progress in making GPS very useful at pedestrian speeds.

After spending time with some friends in Harvard Square, I set the
Mobile Geo software to find my home. It took a little while to
calculate a relatively simple route, but each turn it told me to make
was dead on pan. Unlike many other GPS programs, it did a terrific job
of ignoring one-way streets as such directional information is of no
value to a pedestrian.

The combination of the three off-the-shelf hardware products and
Mobile Geo has been making my walks around town less stressful as I
needn't constantly keep track of where my dog and I are at any given
moment. I have not thoroughly tested all of its features nor have I
spent much time with either of the Symbian solutions so I cannot
provide detailed comparison information or even a thorough description
of this particular GPS software yet. As I stated at the top of this
article, I will be working with three different GPS programs and will
be writing about them in a more formal and comparative matter. I can,
however, recommend Mobile Geo based on my experience with it thus far.

Afterword

This is the first Blind Confidential article that I've written using
MacSpeech Dictate and Open Office on my Macintosh. Thus, if there are
peculiar homophones or odd word combinations that, when spoken
together quickly might sound like a word, and that the voice recognition
software misunderstood, please forgive me as my profile in this
dictation product has not had a lot of training and, consequently,
will probably make a number of mistakes. I will go through and do some
manual editing, but homophones cause difficulty for a blind person
listening to text via a speech synthesizer, and without the laborious
and obviously tedious task of spelling every single word in the
document, I will have no easy way of knowing which version of a word
did the dictation program choose to use.

--END

3 Comments:

Blogger DaveP said...

I thought there was something different Chris.

Sounds like a good combination.

Keep us posted please.

Dave P.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Chairman Mal said...

Howdy Comrades!
I thought this was an interesting post. I wondered why I saw Chris run. I thought Chris was running with Jane, but I think it was his dog instead. I think Chris was running to do an experiment for BC. I think its fun to see Chris run. Onward through the fog!
Regards,
Chairman Mal
Power to the Peeps!

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

Hi there, I'm just wondering if you had trouble with two bluetoothe devices with your t mobile dash. I'm just beginning to assemble my mobile geo package.

7:50 PM  

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