Guide Dogs and GPS Make Perfect Pairing

By | Posted:February 27, 2011 2:30 p.m.

It seems like every day we get some gee whiz new high tech breakthrough that amazes, from cars that can parallel park themselves to smart refrigerators that can create this week’s grocery list.

Beyond the cool factor, what really impresses me is new technology that has the power to change lives.

Guide Dogs and GPS Make Perfect Pairing
Leader Dogs has been working with GPS systems and guide dogs for 4 years, but earlier systems had as many as 39 buttons. The new Kapsys device is much simpler to use and voice-driven.
Photo: Courtesy Leader Dogs for the Blind

So when I first learned about Leader Dogs for the Blind incorporating an innovative GPS system along with their guide dog training for the visually impaired, I immediately became excited by the possibilities.

As I report in the April 2011 issue of DOG FANCY, Leader Dogs has worked with Kapsys, a French technology company, to develop a voice-directed GPS device the size of an iPod Nano that holds promise as a new high tech guidance tool for the sight impaired.

Doing guide-dog training is nothing new for Leader Dogs, which for more than 70 years has provided guide dogs and training to people who are blind and visually impaired. Each year, about 250 students attend the Detroit-area organization’s 26-day residential training program to be paired with a guide dog.

Guide dogs do things for the sight impaired that no technology can yet do. But what’s exciting today is that Leader Dogs is pioneering a new voice-controlled GPS device and incorporating that into their training. "The dog helps you avoid obstacles, and the GPS gives you directions, it’s an exciting combination,’’ says Greg Grabowski, Leader Dogs CEO. "As far as we know, Leader Dogs is the only guide dog school in the world that has integrated guide dogs and GPS together in a training program.’’

Over the years we have provided the guide dog as a mobility tool, says Rod Haneline, Leader Dogs chief operating officer. "But the GPS hands the blind person a map, a tool they have never had before, a way to orient themselves,’’ says Haneline, an expert in developing advanced mobility instruction programs.

Editor Off Leash - Guide Dogs and GPS Make Perfect Pairing
Doug Martens and his guide dog, Brodie, help conduct extensive pilot testing with the new Kapsys device.
Photo: Courtesy Leader Dogs for the Blind

In rigorous pilot testing by Leader Dogs experts and selected individuals, the new device has exceeded expectations.

"We have one client who can now fly to New York, where he has never been before, and he can walk out of a strange hotel and navigate his way to Starbucks,’’ Grabowski says. "The GPS device guides him turn by turn, and the dog helps him avoid obstacles. Once he gets to Starbucks he can say to the dog, Find the door, or Find the counter, and the dog guides him. It is a perfect combination.’’

Starting in March 2011 Leader Dogs will begin training those getting guide dogs with the new device, providing it for free. "Our hope is to be able to provide this device at no charge to all our clients, including those who come in for cane training, summer kids camps, everyone – more than 1,000 people,’’ says Grabowski.

To learn more about Leader Dogs go online to www.leaderdog.org.

                        - Read more of Editor Off Leash -

 


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Roxanne   Rhinelander, WI

3/22/2011 7:08:15 PM

that's my husband! So glad he has Brodie and this gps technology!

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Cindy   Rockford, IL

3/13/2011 10:20:55 AM

This is amazing! I love technology.

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Galadriel   Lothlorien, ME

2/28/2011 10:27:27 PM

Fantastic.

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Nina   Madison, WI

2/28/2011 1:01:10 PM

My husband--soon to get Leader Dog #4--is so excited for this technology! It's really amazing.

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