Grad students to develop GPS project for visually impaired

Sweetman, who is blind, and Bowden-Callahan have spent the past several months marking more than a hundred navigation points of interest on the Cal State Northridge campus. They then entered the information into Sendero GPS, a software program developed by the Sendero Group. The Sendero GPS program runs on several note-taking devices commonly used by the blind and visually impaired. Attaching a small GPS receiver to the note-taker allows the program to inform its user about where he or she is and what is in the surrounding area.

Sweetman said the program would provide the location of the various entrances to buildings, including often overlooked side entrances, as well as shortcuts and alternate routes across campus.

“I’ve actually learned a couple new routes—shortcuts—as the result of working on this project,” he said.

Sweetman actually used one of the first, very primitive GPS devices developed about a decade ago to help the blind navigate through a community.

“It was the size of a backpack and weighed about 15 pounds, and the information it provided was very basic. The map on the laptop version have very few commercial points of interest, and the GPS receivers were not nearly as accurate as the receivers we have today,” he said. “The Points of Interest that we’re developing for the campus is able to run on a small note-taker that can be carried easily and will provide detailed information so that you truly will know where you are and what’s around you on the CSUN campus.”

Bowden-Callahan envisions that someday the program would be application-accessible on individual cell phones.

“It would also be great if we could expand it to other university campuses and outside the borders of our campus,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be great if someone could continue walking west from the campus and learn that the buildings they were passing contained apartments, restaurants and other businesses they didn’t know about? They could truly explore their community the way people who don’t have visual issues can.”

“There’s so much going on with assistive technology. The potential is limitless,” Sweetman said.

Cal State Northridge launched its Master of Science in Assistive Technology Studies and Human Services, believed to be the first such degree program in the country, last year to meet a growing demand for trained professionals in the field of assistive technology.

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