When you have been told your limitations for years, it can wear on you. But when people told Thomas Panek, a 50-year-old New Yorker, that he wouldn’t be able to complete a 5k on his own, he intended to prove them wrong.
Thomas is blind, he lost his vision in his early 20s due to a genetic condition. But he still enjoys running, he also runs a guide dog school called Guiding Eyes for the Blind. As a marathon enthusiast he always felt held back. He was tired of having to follow slower runners as a guide. So he decided a year ago to find a way to run solo. “The safest thing for a blind man is to sit still. I ain’t sitting still,” said Panek.
That is how he ended up in a partnership with Alphabet Inc. He turned to technology to solve his problem of how to run a race without being able to see the course. He could use the Google map system as well as the technology they have been developing for self-driving cars, and auto-speech, to have a smartphone tell him where to go.
The Google parent company created a research program, and using a smartphone camera, they were able to have it pick up a painted ‘guideline’ on a running track. Then an app detects the runner’s position in relation to the line and gives audio guidance through an earpiece for any course correction that needs to be made. “It’s like teaching a kid how to learn where the line is,” said Google researcher Xuan Yang.
That is how Thomas was able to complete a 5-kilometre run in New York’s Central Park just last week without a guide dog or a human companion runner. “To be able to be here, it’s real emotional,” Panek said after his test of the app on a chilly fall afternoon, in an event sponsored by Google and the New York Road Runners Club on Thursday. “It’s a real feeling of not only freedom and independence, but also, you know, you get that sense that you’re just like anybody else.”
This is your Good News Story of the Day, read it in full here, and it is a significant accomplishment, and if properly developed and integrated into societies infrastructure it could also transfer to day to day life, and not just running marathons. That would be showing love to your neighbour and helping the blind to see.
Story and Image from Reuters.