Welcome to Africanews

Please select your experience

Watch Live

Sport

sport

Blind athlete runs desert marathon using smartphone app

Blind athlete runs desert marathon using smartphone app

United Kingdom

The physical and mental endurance required for an ultramarathon in the scorching desert is challenging even for most accomplished athletes.

And for a blind competitor to run alone, it might seem impossible.

British runner, Simon Wheatcroft has an eye disorder since 17 which gradually reduces his sight.

To run in the right direction all you need is a bearing, so it may be 40 degrees north that you need to run for a certain amount of time.

He is a veteran of numerous city marathons when accompanied by a partner. Recently, he teamed up with IBM to develop a smartphone app that could help him navigate his way in the last edition of the Sahara race held in Namibia.

Wheatcroft’s guide dog is called Ascot and the app he co-developed is named ‘eAscot’.

“To run in the right direction all you need is a bearing, so it may be 40 degrees north that you need to run for a certain amount of time. So we created an app that would notify me if I deviated from the desired bearing,” he said.

Together with IBM,they are developing the technology, with plans to incorporate devices into his clothing using touch sensors that would relay navigational information, known as haptics communication.

“The key improvement is to definitely take it to the city marathon. So the app for the desert used GPS as the navigation system. So now, can we create a system which can identify the objects and then translate that information to me? That’s what we’re working on now,” he added.

Completing the ultramarathon race in Namibia proved too difficult for Wheatcroft because of the rough terrain and heat but he says he is determined to return.