For the Blind, This GPS Tracker Technology Is Priceless

Is there anything GPS technology can't do? With the amount of uses out there, I'd say there isn't! Look at the range of options offered by the services and you can see that just about anything can be tracked with GPS.

What's new in the GPS tracking world? Something amazing!

It started out being developed for soldiers operating unmanned vehicles in places they've never been, but soon took a new direction. Nowauburn_university_gps, the technology is being used to guide the blind.

The Project

A team of researchers from Auburn University, together with not-for-profit Draper Laboratory, have successfully designed a GPS tracker integrated with cameras and sensors normally used on robots.

But, aren't there already GPS trackers on the market that help the blind community? Sure, but this one is unique.

What's Different?

This GPS tracker helps to make sure that those with vision impairments can walk safely on sidewalks and not on the street. Doesn't that sound like a necessary improvement? Precise accuracy is where this GPS tracker differs.

There's also another amazing difference between this GPS device and one that you may use on a regular basis. This GPS tracker can also track and detect obstacles that may be in the way of a person's direct path.

How It Works

This advanced GPS tracker relies on two different cameras. Each camera calculates the distance the wearer has traveled in a process called "visual odometry."

The tracker uses images to figure out which direction the wearer is headed, as well as how far they've traveled. The images it captures also helps the GPS tracking software to determine where various objects are located at any given time. Finally, the tracker maps those locations and obstacles.

These different cameras and algorithms designed by the Auburn research team then pull in the information gathered by the GPS tracker's accelerometer, GPS satellites, and wireless signal from various devices and convert it to useful cues for the person wearing the device.

The cues it will give are still in development, and the researchers are working alongside the 'National Federation of the Blind' to assure that it isn't incredibly distracting – but we think that this tracking technology is amazing, even if it is still in the design process.

The Future

The potential for this technology is being explored (like figuring out a way to provide the wearer with information from various components of transportation infrastructure), but it's definitely promising.

As it's in development, it's not yet known what it will look like. The team expects a prototype to be available no sooner than 2015. There isn't a shortage of ideas regarding its design: there has been talk of a Google Glass-esque design where the cameras are mounted onto the glasses, as well as a GPS tracking ankle bracelet that vibrates to alert the wearer to where they need to go, but nothing has been settled on quite yet.

For the blind, advancements in GPS tracking technology mean a safer world to navigate, and that's something that's entirely priceless.