Leader Dogs teams with tech on GPS

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Leader Dogs for the Blind is using technology to help clients navigate their communities in combination with a cane or guide dog.

The Rochester Hills-based organization, which operates on an $11 million budget, began exploring handheld audible GPS technology for its clients in 2005, working with Quebec-based HumanWare Group Inc. to pilot a device called the Trekker.

But the device costs about $2,000. In 2008, Leader Dogs began piloting the scaled-down GPS Trekker Breeze for HumanWare, in the hope of bringing the cost down and making the device more user-friendly.

Relying on Google internal maps, the Trekker Breeze can announce stores and buildings as a pedestrian approaches them, and can state the direction that person is facing, the closest intersection and verbal directions.

At $800, the price was still too high, said Rod Haneline, Leader Dogs vice president and chief programs and services officer.

"For us to be able to provide the product to as many clients as we could, we wanted to get the price point down," he said.

In 2010, Leader Dogs learned of a device called the Kapten, produced by the French company Kapsys to help pedestrians in Europe get around. The device was $295.

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