Google makes an app that will allow blind runners to run independently

It seems like a dream but it is (almost) a reality: blind people will be able to jog around the city thanks to a special app. This glimmer of light comes from Google which is developing an application designed to allow visually impaired and blind people to do exercise outdoors and independently. 

The app in question is called Project Guideline and it is a sort of guide that allows the user to keep track of the path, through audio signals. To use it, the person must wear a band around their waist and headphones, both of which must be connected to an Android phone. The camera acts as eyes to trace the path and the app sends audio signals to the headphones that vibrate near the ear. If the runner moves aways from the traced path, the sound gets louder.

The app does not need an internet connection and it takes into account a number of factors such as weather conditions and lighting degree. At the moment it is only a research project at an early stage but it looks quite promising.

The system was developed by Google with the help of Thomas Panek, a passionate visually impaired runner and also president and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, one of the eleven accredited schools in the United States for training guide dogs. 

Thomas says: “I’ve always loved to run. Ever since I was a boy, running has made me feel free. But when I was eight-years-old, I noticed that I couldn’t see the leaves on a tree so well, and that the stars in the night sky began to slowly disappear—and then they did forever. By the time I was a young adult, I was diagnosed as legally blind due to a genetic condition. I had to rely on a cane or a canine to guide me. For years, I gave up running”. 

Thomas only started running again after discovering that he could do it with a human guide, which also allowed him to join the New York and the Boston marathons. What he wanted, however, was to be independent, so he left his human guides and started to run only with the help of guide dogs. Being the CEO of a training school for guide dogs, he knows the situation very well and his concern was that not everyone had the opportunity to rely on a four-legged friend. The problem is that there are millions more people with vision loss than there are available guide dogs” he says. Hence the question: “Would it be possible to help guide a blind runner, independently?”. 

So, in 2019 he asked the question to a group of designers and technologists at a Google hackathon. He thought he simply provided an interesting topic for debate, but the designers took him seriously and have been working to make a dream come true ever since.

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