Review – FitBit Charge HR

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I am a great fan of anything related to fitness tracking. I am constantly testing different wearables to identify one that not only tracks useful information, but is accessible. I was excited to hear about the FitBit Charge HR, as I have become interested in tracking my heart rate. The following review is thanks to FitBit allowing me to test out the Charge HR, in order to highlight how useful it can be to someone with a visual impairment. The FitBit Charge HR is a watch type wearable that is able to track steps taken, heart rate, floors ascended, distance moved and calories burnt.

Setup

For the visually impaired market there are not many consumer goods that can be purchased and configured without sighted assistance. The one exception being Apple, well I say one, there are now two exceptions. As the other is FitBit. I was pleasantly surprised by the configuration of my Aria WiFi Scales, as this read more

Qualifying for Boston

Running Boston often appears on many marathon runners radars, it had appeared on mine. I did however think a qualifier was a long way off, perhaps 5 years down the line. That was until I had breakfast with a friend of mine.

We were chatting about marathons and I flippantly said yeah cant run Boston this year as its the same day as Manchester. “No it isn’t Simon, its the day after”. Wait so if I ran Manchester quick enough I could get on a plane and run Boston? Then jump on another plane and run London?

After realising it was possible there was only one thing left to do, find a qualifier. It turned out there was one, and only one qualifier left in the UK. Therefore, I had one shot, the only snag, I hadn’t trained since returning injured from the USA.

I turned up to Birchington-on-sea barely fit enough to run a half and had to run read more

Deep learning and audio description

The audio describing of video content is abysmal. Only a small a mount of video content on television is described and the same goes for movies. Move into the online sphere, Netflix, Vimeo, YoutTube and there is simply no described content.

There are numerous problems like this and addressing them creates huge possibilities for the sighted too. Hence when reading about Clarifai’s deep learning AI that can describe video content I was excited. There system has been created to increase the the capabilities of video search, as if the AI can identify the video content it can serve more accurate search results.

But the ability to perceive and describe what is in a video has implications for the sight impaired. If this could be released as an add-on for Chrome or another browser, it would allow a whole host of video content to be described. While read more

An international half

Over the past few months I have been training primarily with a friend, she is relatively new to running and is yet to compete heavily. So when the topic of her running her first half marathon came up I thought it might be fun to run it in the snow. That idea was quickly quashed as it turns out it is incredibly expensive to run a snow race – who knew!

A little searching around and we found another half in Terassa, a town an hours train journey from Barcelona. Neither of us could speak spanish but thanks to Google translate and a spanish speaking friend we managed to enter the race. A quick check of the race entrants we noticed we were the only brits, time to represent our country!

It wouldn’t just be a case of turning up and running, we first needed to collect our race numbers and timing chips from Terrassa the day before the race. read more

VoiceOver on the apple watch

From 9to5Mac

Like Apple’s other products, Apple Watch will have a series of key accessibility features.
To access Accessibility Settings on the fly, users will triple-click the Digital Crown.
The Apple Watch will have a VoiceOver feature that can speak text that is displayed on the screen. Users will be able to scroll through text to be spoken using two fingers. VoiceOver can be enabled either by merely raising a wrist or by double tapping the display.
Users will also be able to zoom on the Apple Watch’s screen: double tap with two fingers to zoom, use two fingers to pan around, and double tap while dragging to adjust the zoom.
There will also be accessibility settings to reduce motion, control stereo audio balance, reduce transparency, switch to grayscale mode, disable system animations, and enable bold text.

Great to see confirmation that the apple watch will support VoiceOver. From the original demo I had hoped accessibility would be baked in. Looking forward to another way to interact with my smartphone and the new possibilities that will enable. Particularly looking forward to the haptic navigation features, which is something I have been reaching out for wearable companies to add for over 2 read more

Object recognition with Google Glass

When I first heard about Google Glass I imagined a future when Glass could assist in labelling objects in the environment. Well it seems that future might be rapidly approaching

Neurence has created a cloud based platform called Sense, which uses pattern based machine learning to identify objects within an environment. This system can be utilised on a number of devices including Google Glass.

Through pattern recognition the cloud based platform is able to recognise objects within the environment such as signs. This has incredible implications for the VI community and as the platform expands and adds more objects to its database it will only functionally be of greater value.

What really intrigues me about this device is how it can fit an incredible purpose for the VI community but is aimed squarely at a different market. As they are attempting to make the next generation of search – which read more

Google Cardboard – Adding vision to the blind

As Google Cardboard surpasses the 500,000 mark it reminded me of a possible interesting use for the VI community.

A big issue related to loss of sight is contrast, as vision deteriorates the outside world often lacks enough contrast to adequately identify objects. However, this can in many cases be overcome by observing the same scene through a backlit screen. For example, a couple of years ago my son received a Duplo train for christmas. Due to my sight loss I was unable to see the track. However, my wife used Apple’s AirPlay to mirror what she was viewing onto the TV screen. This increased level of contrast meant I could help build the track. It may seem strange that I cannot see the track when looking directly at it, but can through a screen. But thanks to the increased contrast I can identify outlines.

This is where cardboard could offer some interesting visual cues to the VI. read more

Boston to NYC – The Line

While running with a friend I had a little flashback to a moment from my Boston to NYC adventure. As my friend and I ran down a road I was using my usual trick of feeling the line underfoot, when I remembered a moment from the roads of Connecticut.

It was when I began to really think about running the line. My guide was off in front with the simple instruction, “follow the line Simon!”. Everyone in the group including myself readily accepted my ability to feel the line and stick to it, one foot wrong and I would be facing the enormity of the american traffic. For a single moment I realised just how high risk the belief in my ability was. But that was it, one single passing moment of “I cant see and I am just feeling this line!” and then it faded away. I quickly flicked back into the moment and carried on chatting to my guide out read more

Reading a book to my children

A wonderful article about Nas Campanella, blind newsreader over at Broadsheet.com

Her studio is equipped with strategically placed Velcro patches – she operates her own panel – so she can recognise which buttons to push to air news grabs and mute or activate her mic. While she’s reading on air, that same electronic voice reads her copy down her headphones which she repeats a nanosecond later. In another ear the talking clock lets her know how much time she has left. The sound of her own voice is audible over the top of it all.

Reminded me of a problem I have in my life. Reading books to my children. I have often thought about using a tiny in ear wireless headphone, such as the Earin to solve this problem. It’s interesting to hear someone is using this on a daily basis in their work life. The article is also well worth a read as Nas’s attitude is read more

Dream to Reality

A few years ago I began to think of a few adventures I would love to embark on. I came up with three: The Pilgrimage, The Return and The Dream. Late last month I was fortunate enough for The Pilgramage to become a reality.

The basic premise of The Pilgrimage was to pay homage to RunKeeper and visit a city close to my heart – NYC. The dream was to run from the HQ of RunKeeper in Boston, to NYC then compete in the NYC marathon. The idea to visit the RunKeeper HQ was to thank them for where I am today. Their app enabled me to believe running solo was possible, the reason NYC? I spent a bit of time there, while I could still see. Therefore, the city remains close to my heart.

The adventure was made possible by a few select companies, namely Twitter, PayPal and AirBnB, Little did I know that partnering with AirBnB would elevate the read more