Because Somebody Gotta Be the Goat: My initial thoughts on Seeing Eye GPS

On my last trip to Charlotte, my Aunt told me that I have the potential to be a leader. This in terms of helping my family and of course the blind community to make progress. These were powerful words, and I’d like to think I’ve been attempting to find the best way for me to do that over the last few years.
Certainly one of my strongest areas is rapidly becoming technology. I’m getting better all the time at using the iPhone/iOS, and I will hopefully soon be acquiring a Braille display via the National Deafblind Equipment Distribution Program.
Speaking of that, if you are Deafblind by that program’s definition, I’d recommend looking into what kinds of equipment they may be willing to provide. This is best done by contacting someone in your state’s equivalent of the Division of Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, or your vocational rehabilitation counselor if you have one. My new medical providers at UNC Family Medicine knew about the service too and were ready to refer me if the Division of Services for the Blind hadn’t. I was pretty impressed by that.
Anyway, so I decided I’d step out on a limb and get the newly released Seeing Eye GPS iOS app. Now the observations I have may be specific to my device, although it states that the app should work with an iPhone 3gS running iOS 5 or later. I also freely acknowledge that this is the first version, and thus things should change pretty quickly with updates. But given the app’s cost, $69.95 for one year and $129.95 for three years, I’d say that one might want to be aware of potential challenges.
So I got the app installed fine, clicked register, entered my info, and stepped outside. I decided I’d first take it for a spin along a familiar route to see what it said.
I saw buttons that said POI, standing for Points of Interest, Route, Map, and something else I think. The only thing is I couldn’t often view them, because the app caused my entire system to drag incredibly. I’d touch the screen, flick left and right, and still rarely hear a click.
I thought it may have been because I was still kind of connected to my WiFi when I started, so I disabled that and went solely on the 3G network. Still very slow. Maybe I just need to re-configure some things, I don’t know.
There were definitely some good things, though. As I approach the Exxon station that I usually try to reach, I often have some difficulty because it is at the top of a driveway and set off at an odd angle across a wide open lot. The app told me which way I was walking, as well as the direction I needed to face if I wished to locate the Exxon station. It had an impressive accuracy level too, all the way down to just 16 feet. The best I could get on Ariadne GPS was 64 feet. Intersections were called out as well as which type of intersection it was, (E.G) 3-way.
I turned on the look-around wand, and that’s when it began more specifically describing what exactly was around me. There were some sound effects too, the nature of which I’m not entirely sure. I suppose they were meant to alert me to if the app had lost signal acquisition or if an intersection was actually coming up.
Finally, I noticed a fairly significant battery drain even compared to other GPS services I use. Given the complexity involved in this particular app though, I suppose I could live with that outcome. It just means one really has to be aware of how much juice is left in the device prior to departure.
Despite the drawbacks I noticed, I’m still pretty excited about this app’s potential. So many more buildings and surroundings were labeled as I walked by. And yes, MapQuest noted these buildings too. However, it doesn’t give anywhere near the level of specificity in helping an individual to locate them, not surprising, as they figure most of their users to be sighted. So if any developers do see this entry, keep in mind that I point out the things I notice only in the hopes of improving things for all of us, not as a means of tearing the app down. I know that a lot of work has gone and continues to go into it. Also, the pricepoint is actually not too bad when compared to the hundreds of bucks we’d have to spend for such a system just 5 short years ago. I’d say it’s a fair start.

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