Navigating across a large, densely wooded forest is a challenge even for sighted hikers, but for blind or visually impaired people, it can be next to impossible. However, a new app aims to make it a more achievable goal.
Last week a group of five blind and visually impaired people traversed the Vosges National Forest in France, a journey of more than 60 kilometers. They were able to achieve this goal with the assistance of a GPS app that audibly announces the hikers location and heading, as well as instructions on when and where to turn next.
As they hike through the woods on established trails, the app alerts them as they arrive at a plotted landmark, meaning they are on course. It points them in the right direction using the hour markings on a clock. Three o’clock for right, nine o’clock for left, twelve o’clock for straight ahead, and all of the other hours for the directions in between. Estimated distances and arrival times to the next landmark are also provided.
The app runs on their smartphones, and taps into the same global positioning system that automobiles use. It updates it’s position every ten seconds, and can alert the hikers of upcoming obstacles, crossroads, or dangers, like cliffs or bodies of water.
The hikers were very happy with the freedom the app has offered them.“This gives us so much pride because we know that in some way we’re taking part in a great adventure that can bring about many improvements in the lives of visually impaired people,” said one of the five travelers.
Another added, “I’ve practically never done anything like this. It’s a completely different experience from just hill walking. It’s really... the sensations are amazing.”
The app is still in its testing phases, but is expected to reach the marketplace soon, allowing millions of blind people around the world to adventure off on their own.