Tuesday, February 24, 2009

GPS: The Future Is Bright

Bright for the disabled, that is.

Right now, technology is like a speeding passenger train, and we're all along for the ride, like it or not. Mostly this is a good thing, and I think of all the booming technologies, GPS (Global Positioning System) promises to be especially useful to the disabled community.

Case in point... Google Latitude.

Google Latitude is a new application designed to run on a (growing) number of mobile devices, or on your home computer. In a nutshell, it allows one to track (with permission) the locations of others who also have the application installed on their own mobile device, like a cell phone, Blackberry, etc. See their blog site for a complete list of features and even a short video on how it all works.

So how exactly does a system like this assist the disabled? If you've ever had a son or daughter call you from a noisy location (such as a sporting event or a concert) and ask you for a ride home, you know how hard it can be to make sense out of what they're saying. Now multiply that frustration by ten if you happen to be deaf.

Enter Google Latitude. With a simple call, you get a sort of snapshot of where they are, superimposed over a map of the area, thanks to Google Maps. Then all it takes is a quick text of the address, and using Google Directions, you're on your way. The days of losing members of your group at theme parks may be coming to a close. (Relax kids, there's a "hide" feature if you don't want to be found. LOL)

And for the blind, this assistive technology seems to be even more promising.

Carlos Garcia of Human Network Labs has developed a prototype of a "situational awareness" device that would help blind parents keep tabs on their children. The device uses data-tracking technology (not GPS) and will require the parent and child to wear a communications device about the size of an iPod. This device would then speak (using synthetic voice technology) the location of the child, his or her distance from the parent, and explain how to reach the child at their current location. Using Google Latitude with the same speech capability instead, a person who is blind can achieve the same results if both they and their children are carrying mobile devices -- and what kid isn't these days?

Google Latitude will work on most color Blackberries, most Windows Mobile 5.0 devices, most Symbian S60 devices, and phones powered by Google's Android mobile software, such as the T-mobile G1. It will soon be calibrated to work on the iPhone and iPod Touch too. (The iPod Touch has built-in speech with VoiceOver.)

The bottom line. This is a seriously killer application with life-enhancing benefits for the blind and deaf, and could also prove quite useful for anyone with a disability which limits their ability to locate friends and loved ones while out in the so-called "real world." The trains are running, friends, and finally, they're running on time.

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