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Blind Athlete Runs Desert Marathon Unassisted Using Smartphone App

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Visually impaired British runner Simon Wheatcroft, who worked with IBM to develop the new app.

The new eAscot application from IBM is designed to help visually impaired runners navigate on their own.

Credit: Dibie Ike Michael/Reuters

IBM researchers have developed eAscot, an application designed to help visually impaired runners navigate on their own.

A runner needs to know their bearing to run in the right direction, and the app notifies the user if they deviate from the desired bearing using beeps that increase in frequency as the distance from the desired direction increases. In addition, the pitch of the beep changes depending on the user's position, so it beeps at different pitches depending if the user veers off course to the left or to the right. The app uses satellite navigation and has a user interface similar to a car's parking sensor.

The IBM researchers say the major challenge was developing an app that is a combination of a global-positioning system tracker and a car parking system. "So we kind of needed to come up with the math to detect how far you are off the track and to think about how often we need to do that and how quickly does the app need to respond," says IBM researcher Tim Daniel Jacobi.

The app successfully helped guide a Boston Marathon participant through the course.

From Reuters
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