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September 8, 2008

GPS maps, ancient sculptures and blind ambition

GLOBAL – Maps that move beyond the visual aren’t new by any means, as these ancient Inuit tactile maps show on The guy behind the site is Lewis Martin, a Scottich Architect living in Helsinki Finland, posted an interesting take on mobile GPS mapping:

“I saw these hand maps and also thought of my mobile phone which has gps built in. Now wouldn’t it be possible to make gps phones
become like tactile maps buzzing and vibrating when you take a wrong
turn for instance. Moving through space would become an experience of
touch not just vision.”

The idea of guiding users by touch or other senses may have been ignored until recently by phone developers, but there’s surely a great deal of premise in the idea of no longer having to read a map to get where you’re going. No?

So While Charlie recently launched the 1100 club
here on Conversations, it’s always nice to hear the stories of
smartphone applications that show simplicity isn’t always best. We
pulled this from the hidden depths of Nokia’s labyrinthine website – the story of the open source Loadstone software, which merges GPS with screen reading software to create a cheap and easy navigation system for the blind.

Blind programmers Monty Lilburn and Shawn Kirkpatrick weren’t the first team of developers to merge the two, but with
other commercial products costing upwards of $3,000, they were the
first to make it open source when Loadstone launched for Symbian OS phones in 2006.

Lilburn uses a Nokia E70 smartphone to get him from A to B, and
users in America and Canada benefit from free census maps which mean
every location and point of interest has already been marked on the
Loadstone database. In the UK, ordinance survey maps are
copyright material, meaning users will have to program their own
locations in, but it still “can get you to a building, if not
necessarily to the front door,” Lilburn says.

GPS software has been around since the 1990s, but price of the
has limited development until recently – even now, Lilburn scours the
net for old phones
with cracked displays to use, and is always in need of funding. That,
and without GPS built in, he has to wear the bluetooth receiver on his
jacket, which is enough to put Lilburn’s own (blind) girlfriend off it –
far too geeky according to her.

Perhaps DIY set ups like this will soon be a thing of the past? I hope not. Nokia’s tactile touchscreen
patent confirms the
possibility for braille on your handset, and even braille GPS mapping.

Have you come across any
software which is truly practical, and solves an everyday
problem such as the one faced by Monty and Shawn? Whatever your story or opinion, let us know below.

Image of a darkened corridor by ogimogi