GPS Made Simple: A Review of the Trekker Breeze
Global positioning systems (GPS) have become popular among the driving public. Adapted GPS products have been around for 10 years and have shrunk from heavy laptop computers to small, handheld devices. A criticism of adapted GPS products is that they are too complicated for many users--with too many commands and difficult-to-use data entry methods. HumanWare has attempted to solve this problem by introducing the Trekker Breeze. The Breeze has fewer buttons and a simplified interface. This article reviews the Breeze and provides background information on its development.
The Trekker Breeze uses GPS to guide you. GPS consists of 24 satellites orbiting the Earth. Commercial GPS devices are allowed to be accurate down to about 30 feet. Factors that affect accuracy include the following:
- How clear a view of the sky the receiver has.
- Any obstructions blocking signals, such as tall buildings or overhangs.
- The position of the satellites being tracked--overhead, on the horizon, or somewhere in between.
- The number of satellites being tracked.
- The presence of cloud cover or overhead power lines.
- The speed at which you are moving.
The Trekker Breeze is shipped with a one-gigabyte SD card installed. The package also includes a leather case with a belt clip, a shoulder strap, a speaker with a clip and cable, a power adapter, a USB cable, and a lanyard.
Caption: The Trekker Breeze.
On the left side of the Breeze are the Volume control, SD card slot, and USB connector. On the right side are the Power On/Off switch and the Reset button.
The Power connector is located on the bottom right side of the unit, covered by a rubber protective flap. The external speaker connector is located in the middle of the rounded top edge of the unit.
At the top left edge of the face of the Breeze is the built-in microphone for recording the names of routes and landmarks. To the right is the built-in speaker, which is used when you do not have the stronger external speaker plugged in.
Below the microphone and speaker are three buttons. The Where Am I button is large, orange, and circular. It is in the middle of this three-button group and provides information about your position. Pressing and holding the Where Am I button provides information about landmarks and points of interest. To the left of the Where Am I button is the Information button, which gives you information about the status of the Breeze. To the right of the Where Am I button is the Repeat button. It repeats the last message that was spoken. If you press and hold the Repeat button, the Breeze enters Help mode. In Help mode, you can press any button to hear a description of its function.
Moving down the front of the Breeze, you find the Left and Right arrows and the Confirm button. As you would suspect, the arrow keys are used to move through menus, and the Confirm button is used to make a selection.
At the bottom of the front of the Breeze are the Record, Go To, and Explore buttons. The Record button lets you record the name of a landmark or route. The Explore button is below and to the left of the Record button. Pressing Explore deactivates the current route. Pressing and holding Explore launches the Backtrack function, allowing you to retrace your steps on a saved route. The Go To button is below and to the right of Record. It lets you select and activate a route you wish to follow. Holding down the Go To button activates guidance to a landmark that you have saved.
The Breeze comes with documentation in two formats. The User Manual is available on a CD in HTML and Microsoft Word files. It is also available on a CD as an MP3 file. The manual does a good job of describing the Breeze and explaining how to use it.
How It Works
When you turn the Breeze on, you hear a beep, a welcome message, and an announcement of the battery status. It then begins searching for satellites to provide the information that is needed to announce your location. You hear a series of beeps during the satellite search. When a GPS signal is received, usually in two to three minutes, the Breeze announces the name of the street on which you are walking. When you are about 30 feet from an intersection--the Breeze describes the intersection, for example, "Four-way intersection, Queens Boulevard crossing Ascan Avenue."
The unit contains points of interest from a commercial database, including restaurants, banks, schools, and gas stations. The default setting is to have announcements of these places turned off. If you turn announcements on, when you arrive near one of these locations, the Breeze announces it.
The Breeze is designed to be an easy-to-use device for people who are not sophisticated computer users. It announces intersections as you walk. You can record names of landmarks when you are near them. Later you can select a landmark and have the Breeze lead you to it. If you make a wrong turn, the Breeze says "You are off route. Please turn back." At that point, you can either retrace your steps or have the Breeze direct you to your destination from where you are.
There is no keypad for entering data into the Breeze. With other GPS systems, you can search for a restaurant and make it your destination. You cannot do so with the Breeze. To be able to set a landmark as a destination, you must visit that landmark and record it yourself first.
HumanWare says that its representatives spoke with users and orientation and mobility instructors who found existing GPS products to be too complicated to use. Many users who own HumanWare's Trekker reported that they only use the Where Am I? feature and record their own landmarks. So, the company decided that there was a market for a less complicated, less expensive device.
Training with the Breeze
Leader Dogs for the Blind, in Rochester Hills, Michigan, incorporated the Trekker into its dog training in 2005. I spoke with Rod Haneline, chief operating officer, and Harold Abraham, director of program services at the school, about their input in the development of the Breeze and how they were using the Breeze with students as of November 2008.
They told me that the school brings students from across the country into an unfamiliar environment. Training with a new dog under these conditions is stressful. A GPS system can remove stress by providing a student with important information about the surroundings.
The Breeze is valuable because it is easy to learn and use. "The Breeze has 9 buttons, instead of the 39 on the Trekker," Abraham said. Students learn to use it quickly and can concentrate on working with their dogs.
Students' reaction to the Breeze has been positive. According to Haneline, "The dog guide business has been the same for 80 years. It's nice to add technology."
The Bottom Line
The Trekker Breeze is easy to learn and use. It performs the task of guiding you from point A to point B. It can help you find your way if you stray off your route. As advertised, the Breeze does not have advanced GPS functions. It will be interesting to learn whether this simplified product catches on with people who are blind or have low vision. If it does, other less-complicated products may be developed and come to market.
"With this new addition to our product line, HumanWare now offers GPS benefits to an even wider portion of the visually impaired population. This simple orientation tool is designed for use when traveling in familiar surroundings or on predefined routes. Trekker Breeze enhances independence and confidence in traveling and makes learning new routes easier."
"HumanWare offers the most complete line of GPS tools for visually impaired people. Other models include our BrailleNote GPS and Trekker, both popular full-featured GPS products. BrailleNote GPS integrates seamlessly with our BrailleNote family of products. Sleek and discreet, the Trekker solution runs on a mainstream palm-size PDA."
Manufacturer: HumanWare Canada, 445, rue du Parc Industriel, Longueuil, Quebec 4H 3V7, Canada; phone: 888-723-7273 or 819-471-4818; web site: www.humanware.ca.
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