Serotek Introduces TrikeTech For Tots
April 1, 2013
Serotek, the leading provider of internet and digital information accessibility software and services, announced its contribution to the ongoing push for the blind to drive independently with the TrikeTech for Tots program. The challenge of developing technology to allow the blind to drive independently has been tackled by such groups as Google and The National Federation of The Blind, each of whom have a different approach to how the task could be accomplished. While both groups are making major strides toward their goal, Serotek feels there has been something fundamental missing from the projects so far.
“As blind adults, we’ve grown up believing we could never drive”, said Mike Cuervo, CEO. “And society believes we can’t drive either. So even when we get the technology right, there’s going to be a cultural bias to overcome. What needs to happen is that blind drivers should know without a doubt that they can drive from a very early age, and the public needs to see lots of blind people driving safely and independently.”
From this forward-thinking philosophy, the TrikeTech for Tots program was born. Serotek has partnered with Radio Flier to produce the self-driving tricycle, allowing blind preschoolers the freedom to drive independently, a freedom long sought after by their adult counterparts.
“At first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about doing this,”, said Rusty Mettles, who is perhaps best-known for his work on Serotek’s GTO notetaker.. “All I knew was that kids make me a little uncomfortable. They’re so loud, and most of them don’t even know what a user interface is. We just have nothing to talk to each other about. So when Mr. Cuervo told me I’d be working on this project, my real motivation was to give these kids the power and ability to vacate my vicinity as rapidly as possible.”
That motivation quickly paid off. Before long, Mettles had outfitted the Radio Flier with censors for advanced obstacle detection and avoidance, a smart phone with GPS, and sophisticated software to tie it all together. “With adults, they usually know where they want to go and have the technical know-how to enter that in to a smart phone,”, explained Mettles. “But with kids it’s more complicated. They may know what they want or where they want to go, but how are they going to express that?” Mettles finally settled on voice recognition as the user interface for the tots. He has christened this combination of breakthrough technology Sat-Go … Sat in honor of the satellite technology, and “Go…” is obvious, even to a child. “The kid just mashes the horn on the tricycle, and whatever they say next gets recognized.”, he said. But Mettles didn’t stop there. “I realized that the tone of the voice was at least as important as the words spoken.”, explained Mettles.
With this in mind, he developed software to analyze the tone of voice and calculate what he calls WQ, or Whininess quotient. “WQ helps us determine what speed to travel. The kid does pedal, but sometimes we provide a little motorized help. If WQ is high, we need to get the kid to their destination as quickly as possible before a full meltdown occurs. But if WQ is low, we can allow the child to pedal themselves and get to the destination at a more leisurely pace.”
To see this technology in action, we took a few moments to observe Debbie Anne Lennox, the preschooler specifically picked by Mr. Mettles to test the device, for reasons known only to him. We asked the young girl what she thought about her new toy. “I wanna go home!”, she shrieked, and with that, the tricycle zoomed away toward her parents’ house, with little Debbie clinging desperately to the handlebars.
Unfortunately, there were some initial problems with the prototype. For while it headed in the direction Debbie Anne specified, it did not go very far.
“It was never designed for indoor environments like my office,” stated a muffled Mettles, while flat on his back. If it were, it would have navigated safely around the large jar that contained my extensive marble collection… All twenty thousand, nine hundred and forty-two of them to be exact. For that matter, it would have also gone around me!” Luckily, Mettles just had the wind knocked out of him, and we believe that the tire tracks across the front of his shirt give it a whimsical appeal that it previously lacked.
The trike did make it safely out of Serotek headquarters, with little Debbie giggling and honking her horn. It was at this point we saw the second serious technical flaw. The sounds of Debbie Anne’s laughter soon turned to anguished wails: “Gotta go! Gotta go! Oh no oh no oh nooooooo!”
We are unsure what caused the TrikeTech to start spinning in frantic circles, resembling a dog chasing its tail. It could be that the technology was unfamiliar with the tone of hysteria in the child’s voice, or it could have something to do with the excessive amount of moisture pooling under the device. “Moisture and technology were never meant to mix!” declared Mettles while fleeing the scene.
Despite it’s setbacks, there has been a vast outpouring of support from an unexpected corner of the blind community. Senior citizens have gotten wind that a new device, the GeriaTrike is being developed to meet their needs.
“If a person has been blind all his or her life,” explained Cuervo, “The idea of driving something as powerful as a car may be too much. Since many sighted seniors bike to keep in shape, we wanted our blind seniors to have the same options.”
I think it’s a lovely idea,” stated Myrtle Shleppenhauser, a long-time customer. “It’s the kind of thing Serotek is so good at… Finding new and exciting ways to bring family together. It will be such fun to go for a ride with my little Granddaughter, Debbie Anne. She’s got her TrikeTech, and I hope to have a GeriaTrike real soon. And best of all, I can attach the collapsible rolling cart for my GTO right to the GeriaTrike, and I’ve got everything I need.”