Even now, Wheatcroft remained torn. He had a wife and two young sons. A wrong step on a training run could lead to severe injury or worse. But he persevered. In a marathon, he felt the same as any other runner. And, as he chased the finish line, he also pursued technology that could help the blind and visually impaired lead more independent lives.
On his left arm, Wheatcroft wore a device that he helped develop with designers from a two-year-old Brooklyn company called WearWorks.
The company’s first product is a wristband — adapted as an armband for Wheatcroft — called a Wayband. It connects via Bluetooth with a smartphone and uses information from Google Maps, OpenStreetMap and proprietary technology to guide wearers to their destination by emitting patterns of vibrations instead of voice commands.
Pulses from the armband were designed to keep Wheatcroft running on Sunday within a virtual corridor, about 20 feet wide, and to help him turn right and left. Four short, rapid vibrations signaled that a left turn was ahead. Two longer vibrations signaled a right turn.
He also wore an ultrasonic sensor on his chest. Two sharp vibrations alerted him to runners crossing his path. No vibrations meant he was free of obstacles. Gentle pulses suggested he was securely cocooned in a pack of runners moving at roughly the same speed.
Also attached to a strap on his chest was an iPhone. On his right arm was a separate GPS device to provide more accurate positioning on the course and to save battery life on the cellphone.
“Today was always about pushing the technology to its limit,” Wheatcroft said. “We found the limit earlier in the race than we would have liked. But it was lessons learned. We can improve, move forward, make it better. It’s not the end, it’s just a start.”
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