Simon Wheatcroft’s unique blend of ferocious drive, along with his background in technology and psychology, enables him to push the boundaries of possibility and challenge people to explore what they can achieve. Born with a genetic eye disorder (Retinitis Pigmentosa) resulted in Simon becoming blind at age 17. Now, partnering with leading technology firms and using social media to find running partners, Simon has gone on to run marathons and ultra marathons. Leveraging his experience of working with leading technology firms (IBM, MIT and Google), Simon is creating the next generation of technology that will continue to enable himself and others to achieve what many bystanders would consider unattainable.
In this latest blog post, Simon talks about his relationship with technology and how he has used it to change his life, becoming a blind solo ultramarathon runner and the first blind person to ever navigate a marathon solo.
I have always had an intimate relationship with technology, as it enabled me to redefine what is humanly possible. The interactions between man and machine was the driving force behind me as a blind runner learning to run alone.
It started simple; minimal interactions, one data point, a voice from my phone that would tell me how far I had run. I paired that with the feeling underfoot and I learnt to run alone. Not just 1 mile or 2, but thousands. Competing at the ultra-distance covering anything from 50 to 260 miles.
I began to ponder what would be possible if only I could improve the interaction. I took a simple but noble idea – corrective navigation and crossed a desert alone. Rather than the traditional method of a GPS device saying turn left or right, what if it simply corrected you along a straight line? It turned out to be a new powerful way to navigate and inspired other technology firms to follow suit.
But there was always one limiting factor. The bandwidth of humans to one modality. Only so much information can be gleaned through audio or even a visual interface. (Audio, in particular, is important to blind runners as environmental noise is essential). So, I began to explore other ways to communicate.
Haptics seemed like a truly untapped market. Haptics technology recreates the sense of touch by applying motions, vibrations or forces to the user, the sense of touch conveys so much nuanced information. So it seemed ideally matched to a new paradigm of human to computer interactions. Working with WearWorks we refined this technology and now have a haptic navigation device. One that is capable of navigating a blind runner through a city marathon. In NYC on November the 5th I will become the first blind person to ever navigate a city marathon solo.
But perhaps, more importantly, we are opening the doors to a new way to communicate. One that is subtle and can be used discretely. A method of communication that doesn’t remove you from a social situation.