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Tool lets blind 'see' with talking GPS

Posted: 16 Mar 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Braille-Note? GPS? blind? global positioning system? SiRFstarIII GPS chip?

Is there a market for global positioning systems for the blind? Mike May thinks so. May is blind, and he uses a talking GPS. He is also a serial entrepreneur whose company is making a modest profit on the software that powers it.

May now wants to extend the software to cellphones and other mobile platforms. His company, Sendero Group LLC, rolled out a developer's kit to power any GPS device that runs on Windows Mobile, Windows CE 4.2 or Windows XP. Sendero sells the software today bundled on a custom PDA called the Braille-Note. The tool works with any GPS receiver attached to the PDA, but May prefers a device that uses the SiRFstarIII GPS chipset from SiRF Technology Inc.

"Our software is really verbose. It gives a ton of information," he said.

May uses the system to navigate for his sighted wife when she drives. But the software is also useful for pedestrians. It has a "look-around" mode that can announce any of 13 million points of interest in a licensed database that's bundled with the software. "With this feature, when you walk down the street, you see the shops. Our software might say, 'There is a Starbucks ahead on the left,' " May said.

The maps licensed with the software require about 6Mbytes and May's application requires another megabyte or so.

May counts singer Stevie Wonder among early users of his system.

The software can also memorize a route, helping the user navigate through often-traveled areas such as a park or even a grocery store.

Sendero is developing a capability to use Wi-Fi triangulation and GPS. The company is also working on a capability to attach an optical sensor to detect the specific frequency of signals emitted by fluorescent lights as a way to mark an indoor path. Work on the new features, funded by a federal grant, will move into a test phase in Sacramento, California soon.

May hopes the kits encourage engineers to move the software to cellphones. Sendero will port the software to the Symbian OS to help that migration.

The entrepreneur focuses on system definition and marketing. His company employs about six people who handle the technical issues of coding and testing the software.

Several thousand people use May's current GPS system, including singer/songwriter Stevie Wonder, whom May met at a tech conference in 1984. Wonder "likes to have the newest and latest version of everything" and "wants to know what's out there when he's driving around in his limo," said May, noting that the entertainer also uses the voice-activated Wildfire service on his Treo phone.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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