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Breakthrough App Guides Blind Runner on Solo 5k Run Through Central Park


Vision is not always measured by the things we see, but rather by the things we imagine, the things we strive to achieve, and the things we make happen. Runner Thomas Panek lost his sight due to a genetic disorder in his twenties, but never gave up on the race.

“The safest thing for a blind man is to stay still. I’m not sitting still, “he said. Reuters.

Three decades later, Panek is taking a new step. Using a state-of-the-art application that he was instrumental in development on, he recently became the first blind runner to complete a 5K race without the help of a guide dog or human running partner.

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Panek is no stranger to news. As President and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a New York-based non-profit organization, in 2015 he launched the “Running guides”Guide dog training program for blind runners.

“I’ve been a runner my whole life, except I stopped for a while for fear of running unaided. I went back to running using human guides, ”Panek said in an interview with Time. “People volunteered to connect with me on a leash to show the way forward but I would have to leave my guide dog at home and yet dogs love to run and I love to run so really I wanted to see with my Guiding Eyes for the Blind training if it was possible to train a guide dog to run. “

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In March 2019, Panek, the first blind participant to do so, ran the 13.1-mile New York City Half Marathon, crossing the finish line in a time of 2:20:52 with the help of a relay team. of three dogs.

He started the race accompanied by a black Lab named Westley. Westley was relieved by a yellow lab named Waffle. Panek completed the last leg of the race with his personal guide dog, Gus.

As much as he enjoyed the company of his guide dog, Panek wondered if there wasn’t a way to run on his own. He reached out to Google for help.

The answer came in the form of a camera-assisted artificial intelligence cell phone app. Using painted track markers, the app calculates a runner’s location and orientation and responds with audio cues to guide them in the right direction.

At an event co-sponsored by Google and the New York Road Runners Club, Panek tested the Project Guideline app for the first time. “Being able to be here is very emotional,” he said. “It’s a real feeling not only of freedom and independence, but also, you know, you have the feeling that you are just like anyone else.”

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Except that Panek is not like the others. He believes humans are “born to run” and is gifted with the kind of vision that strives to make sure no one who shares his dream is left behind.

(CLOCK Google’s video of how the tech was made below).

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