Guide dogs GPS unit nominated for award

by Leanne Thompson on April 24, 2009

Guide dogs may be about to get their own satellite navigation system, invented by a mature student inventor to enable blind people to get to new places with their guide dog.

34 year old mature student from Penarth, Jason Perkins, was searching for an every day need for his design studies and having talked to blind people in Cardiff from the Cardiff Institute for the Blind, he found that guide dogs alone were not enough to give blind people the confident to travel to new places.

The guide dogs learn the regular routes that their blind partner uses but when it comes to travelling to new places, nine out of ten blind people felt reluctant travelling on new routes as they still needed other help.  The GPS device, called Peepo, is held in the same hand as the guide dog’s lead and tells the user which way to turn by vibration on their finger.

The University of Wales Institute student Mr Perkins said:

“I was trying to find a need for a design that would help with an everyday life barrier.  The people in the focus group were telling me that when you’ve got a guide dog, it doesn’t give you complete freedom.  It’s only on the regular routes that the dog knows. You still have got to ask for outside help.”

The GPS device is set to the required destination before setting off and the sensors vibrate to advise when to turn right or left and pulses continuously the remainder of the time to reassure that the user is continuing in the right direction

Mr Perkins added:

“I went for the ‘touch’ approach because a voice is not always ideal when you are in busy or noisy conditions and some people who are blind are hard of hearing as well.”

The sat nav system has now been nominated for a Sir James Dyson award, run by the foundation set up by the billionaire inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner.  The winner of the award will receive £10,000 cash for themselves and another £10,000 for their design department.

Mother of three children, Jane McCann from Cardiff and her guide dog Peg were one of those testing the Peepo prototype.  Ms McCann commented:

“It’s immensely liberating. It just forms a natural part of the existing equipment and the way we work.  You don’t have to be worrying about missing commands.  It gives you a good few metres of warning, which is great because you have to prepare the dog anyway, to say “find left”, “find right” or “find the kerb”.  With three small children, who tend to like to natter, I can entirely focus on what we’re doing. It’s quite relaxing.”

It is hoped that Peepo will receive funding from the Welsh Assembly to allow Mr Perkins to launch the design properly and secure a sponsor to break into the American market too.

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