Detroit Free Press, Michigan.
Thursday, August 24, 2006.
BLIND GET HIGH-TECH HELP: A new way to see
The Trekker includes maps to restaurants and entertainment venues and can be customized. It's designed to be used with a leader dog or a walking cane.
Sarah Clark has lived in Beverly Hills, Calif., for two years and has explored her neighborhood with her seeing-eye companion, Miguel -- a 6-year-old Laborador mix.
But she has only been in a handful of the many boutiques, restaurants and specialty shops in her area.
Now, thanks to a new technology that puts a personal global positioning system around her neck, the 26-year-old is emboldened to explore all her neighborhood has to offer.
Clark is one of four students who came to the Rochester headquarters of Leader Dogs for the Blind to learn how to use the new technology, called Trekker.
The nonprofit Leader Dogs organization was founded in 1939 with a mission of making sightless people more independent. It is one of only two schools in the nation to train students in using Trekker, which was developed two years ago by an Australian company called Humanware.
Trekker, which works similarly to a GPS in a car or boat, is used in tandem with a leader dog or a walking cane. The 12-ounce Dell Computer personal digital assistant carries in it a vast universe.
The Trekker system costs $2,000 for the high-end model and training costs an additional $2,200. Students are required to pay for the equipment but not the training.
On Wednesday, the last day of the five-day class, students participated in exercises intended to employ all the system's capabilities and test their ability to use them.
In the morning, students were dropped off at a site in Rochester and given a destination address to find on their own. Later in the day, they were given another destination address that took them on some rough terrain and busy roads.
The exercises showed the Trekker's capabilities as well as its limitations.
The route Clark and fellow student Mike Cox took led them through a confusing intersection, across a busy road and along streets that didn't have sidewalks.
Trekker could tell them what direction they were traveling, when to turn and how far to go to the next directional change, but could not tell whether an intersection had a stop sign or light or whether a road had sidewalks.
Users operate Trekker with a keypad that looks like a combination TV remote control and a cell phone pad. Trekker maps include points of interest such as restaurants and entertainment venues. Trekker also has a microphone so users can make notations to maps.
For Clark, the Trekker opens an entire frontier: "I'll probably go out and travel just for the adventure of it."
Contact KIM NORRIS at 248-351-5186 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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