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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Blind sailor designs wireless navigation system

Hello there!  I'm Jeff N Marquis at the business desk and today, I'd like to give a boost to your weekend by sharing a very inspiring article with you.  One that talks about how a blind sailor has managed to design a wireless navigation system.
I wish you a great weekend and a happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian friends.
 
 
Blind sailor designs wireless navigation system
 
Jim Doyle
SF  Chronicle, August 29, 2009
 
Shielded from the sun by his baseball cap and dark shades, Ed Gallagher
seems like any other middle-aged sailor headed for a carefree getaway on San
Francisco Bay.
 
But he's blind, and these days, Gallagher is busy planning for an October
race, one that would include some of his own technological advances.
 
He may not be the first blind man to race sailboats, but he's quite possibly
 
the most creative.
 
The artist and former building contractor is developing and testing wireless
 
technologies so that he and others who have lost their sight can enjoy
sailing and other high-risk activities such as shooting firearms, archery
and skiing.
 
He's also hoping that his technical advances will help blind children and
adults live productive, satisfying lives.
 
Gallagher's passion is sailing.
 
Aided by a miniature video camera embedded in the bridge of his sunglasses,
he's preparing to single-hand a 12-foot Liberty dinghy in a national regatta
in October.
 
The camera captures what Gallagher would see if he were not blind, and the
images are relayed simultaneously to shore via the Skype computer-based
communications network. A sailing buddy, watching the video in real time,
offers guidance to the skipper.
 
Gallagher, who lives in San Francisco's Twin Peaks neighborhood, calls his
custom-designed system the Genoa Connection. Genoa is the name of his guide
dog.
 
Refining the technology
 
His project began two years ago with a video camera mounted to a bicycle
helmet. He has since refined and used this technology to fire a handgun on a
shooting range, shoot arrows at targets, and ski downhill slopes and
cross-country terrain in Aspen, Colo.
His camera is now the size of a dime.
 
"There's a gazillion applications for this stuff," said Gallagher, 58, who
lost his sight to cytomegalovirus retinitis about 10 years ago, forcing him
to retire. He's totally blind in his right eye, and sees only light and
shadow with his left eye.
 
History of innovation
 
This isn't Gallagher's first innovative foray. He serves on the board of
directors of the Zero Gravity Arts Consortium, a nonprofit organization
whose intention is to help artists explore space travel as a venue for
artistic activity. He dressed as a pirate during
a "parabolic flight" in which he experienced weightlessness in the fuselage
of a Boeing 747. And he has created numerous artworks including performance
art.
 
Gallagher's Web site, Genoaconnections.org, traces the history of his
current project. His sponsors include Logitech, a computer hardware
developer in Switzerland.
 
"It's a work in progress," he said, sorting out some computer glitches.
 
Gallagher, who serves as commodore of the Bay Area Association of Disabled
Sailors, sails from Pier 40 near the Giants' baseball stadium. For the time
being, his intention is to stay close to shore until his sailing system is
thoroughly tested.
 
It all seems simple, but occasionally one of the two laptop computers needed
for his system crashes or a battery wears down, leaving the sailor without
shoreside assistance. During testing and training sessions, he is
accompanied on board by another sailor who sits
behind him as an observer; he is also followed by a chase boat.
 
Genoa, his dog, yelps and barks when her master leaves the dock without her.
 
On board, the Army veteran still relies on his senses and experience. He
wets and raises his index finger to test wind direction and velocity.
 
"The wind's coming up," Gallagher tells his shoreside guide through a
headset microphone as he enters McCovey Cove.
 
He also uses his ears.
 
"You listen to the wind and the sails and the rigging," he said. "The heel
of the boat tells you how fast you're going. ... I grew up on sailboats, so
it's second nature to me."
 
A natural sailor
 
Gallagher grew up in Michigan, where he sailed on Lake Fenton, the nearby
Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. In his lifetime, he has also sailed in
Europe, Asia, Africa and South America - and raced on San Francisco Bay.
 
When asked what sparks him to conquer all the technological challenges to
sail without sight, Gallagher said: "I love it. You're one with nature - out
there with the water, the wind and the sun. I'm very healthy, except for my
eye problems. I just never  quit."
 
E-mail Jim Doyle at
jdoyle@sfchronicle.com.
 
 

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