Friday, March 26, 2010

GPS Where Are You?

This week I attended a demonstration at Baruch College’s Computer Center for Visually Impaired People (CCVIP), titled: “GPS Solutions for Visually Impaired People.”

GPS is an intriguing topic, and it seems it would be a particularly important “solution” for people who can’t read the street signs. I often wish for the button I can push that will tell me exactly where I am.

In this day and age, it’s really not an unreasonable expectation. GPS, nowadays, makes an average driver into a brilliant navigator. You can even have your turn by turn directions delivered by the voice of Snoop Dogg, Ozzy Osbourne, or Homer Simpson.

The seminar was presented by a fabulous guy named Gus, who is a former colleague of mine at the Lighthouse, and now heads up the newly developed Demo Center at CCVIP. The audience was a good mix of people with varying visual acuities, looking for the GPS solution of their dreams...

Gus began his fair and balanced review of the Trekker Breeze by Humanware, with a video of his experience starting at Point A. Apparently, the user manual states that it could take up to 20 minutes for the device to figure out “where you are.” As he waited for the answer, Gus mused about how much easier, and quicker, it would be just to ask someone, and not wait for the GPS to figure it out.

The next issue was a biggie. The trekker will not allow you to enter your destination, Point B, unless you have already gone there with the device. Huh?

Through the rest of Gus’s video, (which will be linked here as soon as it is posted online) the Trekker Breeze delivered information at about 50% accuracy. I wondered could GPS be so successful in cars, if it was wrong half the time.

I asked the price of this device, and Gus replied, “$895.” Is that a rip-off? Yes, I believe it is. I understand that this device is known to not perform well in cities with tall buildings. So why do they sell it to visually impaired people who live in cities (with tall buildings)?

Funny thing though, the audience did not seem nearly as appalled by these facts as I did. Could it be that phenomenon I’ve witness before, where visually impaired people are just used to accepting mediocre products at obscenely high prices? They even pointed out the places where the Trekker seemed to work best, for instance in a cab or a bus. Huh?

Gus, whose good nature prevailed, finished his presentation by mentioning several other GPS devices which were of questionable value.

I recalled having experienced great GPS once. It was my nephew Evan giving me turn by turn directions, via my cell phone, taking me from the entrance of FAO Schwarz to the Lego (City Site) he had asked me to get him for his 10th birthday.

That's what I call -- a "solution!"