A new smartphone app helped five blind hikers to cross a mountain range in eastern France without any help from sighted guides. The technology offers new freedom to visually impaired people to lead fuller, more adventurous lives.
The hikers - some fully
blind and some partially-sighted - successfully completed a hike
of 80 kilometres (50 miles) in six days with the help of the
Navi'Rando app. It creates routes and reads aloud detailed
instructions in an electronic voice. It is also able to warn
hikers of any potential dangers en route, such as turns and
The group had to cross mountains, fields and forests in the
Vosges range, which is located near the German border.
The name of the app refers to "randonner," (hiking in French). It
was developed by a team at Strasbourg University in northeast
Instructions are brief and straight to the point, such as:
"Point 15, 11 o'clock, 194 meters."
One of the biggest challenges was trying to stay on the path,
said one of the hikers. "The thing that's still difficult is
using the cane to locate the exact direction of the trail,"
Jean-Claude Heim told AFP.
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The hikers were most impressed with the freedom of movement the
app provided. "It's fantastic to rediscover your sense of
freedom," Nicolas Linder said. "Ninety-five percent of
[visually impaired people] have problems leaving home."
The Navi'Rando app is the first to use "inertial measurement
units (IMUs) to refine the GPS signal and regularly recalculate
the itinerary," team member Laurence Rasseneur of the
university's Sports Science department said. The IMUs devices are
use to help guide unmanned aircraft.
The next step for the app is to expand the technology's reach by
making sure it works in places with a weak GPS signal,
electronics engineer Jesus Zegarra said. After the upcoming
improvements, "you could even imagine blind people being able
to make their way through the corridors of an underground station
on their own," he said.
Navi'Rando has even been used to run a 26-kilometer (16-mile)
distance with other participants who had no vision problems. So
far, the technology remains at the experimental stage.
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