Page last updated at 06:30 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 07:30 UK

Guide dog GPS device up for award

The Peepo GPS system
Vibrations from Peepo are felt in the fingers, telling you which way to turn

A mature student inventor has developed a satellite navigation system for guide dogs that he hopes will allow blind people to step out in new directions.

Jason Perkins, 34, talked to blind people in Cardiff to develop a handset that tells users which way to turn by vibrating their index or ring finger.

Owners hold the GPS device in the same hand as their guide dog's lead.

The University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, student from Penarth is in the running for a Sir James Dyson award.

Mr Perkins developed the sat nav device, called Peepo, after talking to people at the Cardiff Institute for the Blind as part of his design studies.

He found that nine-out-10 were reluctant to travel to new places by themselves even with their dog.

It's immensely liberating it just forms natural part of the existing equipment and the way we work
Peepo trialist Jane McCann

He 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."

His idea is a GPS handset that is programmed with the destination before the user sets off.

Sensors under the fingers vibrate to indicate when to turn left or right and there is a steady pulse the rest of the time to reassure users they are going the right way.

Jane McCann and Peg
Jane McCann and her dog, Peg, have tested the Peepo near their home

He said: "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."

One of those who has tested the prototype is mother-of-three Jane McCann, from Rhiwbina, Cardiff.

She said: "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."

America

Mr Perkins, who was born in north Wales and brought up in Devon, has been nominated for an award run by the foundation setup by millionaire engineer Sir James Dyson, who invented the bag-free vacuum cleaner.

The award winner and their design engineering department both receive £10,000 cash.

Mr Perkins hopes to secure funding from the Welsh assembly government to allow him to launch the design this year and he is also looking for new sponsors in the hope of breaking into the American market with the Peepo.



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