Blind man runs 5k in Central Park with the help of an app

In November 2020, a blind man completed a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run in New York’s Central Park without the help of another human or a guide dog. Instead, he was guided by artificial intelligence through headphones plugged into a smartphone. 

50-year-old Thomas Panek lost his vision in his early 20s due to a genetic condition and runs Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a guide dog school.

Thomas didn't enjoy following a slow runner every time he wanted to go on a run and looked into alternatives. According to him, “humans are born to run.” He then worked with the Alphabet Inc unit to create a research program. A smartphone camera picks up a painted ‘guideline’ on a running track. An app detects the runner’s position and gives audio guidance through an earpiece.

On this chilly afternoon in Central Park, Panek said "To be able to be here, it’s real emotional.. It’s a real feeling of not only freedom and independence, but also, you know, you get that sense that you’re just like anybody else.”


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