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Haptic Footwear for Enhancing Independent Travel from Lechal

March 19, 2016 • sensorytravel


Haptic Footwear for Enhancing Independent Travel from Lechal


First, I should dispense with the disclaimer; I have no connection with Lechal other than being a total geek for all things related to independent travel, especially those things that apply to non-visual travel. Simply put, I paid for the product out of my own funds and this post is entirely my own unabashed and unfiltered opinion. I was fortunate to jump on the band wagon early in the process and was in the first shipment group of products sent to the United States and am therefore participating in the beta version of the app for iOS (it is available for Android on the Google Play store at, but you need to be connected via the Test Flight app to try the Lechal app on the iOS system, at least for the moment). 

The footwear can be ordered in two different forms. The least expensive option is to order the product as insoles (you will be providing your own shoes in this case); you receive a pair of insoles along with the vibro-tactile pods that clip into the bottom of the insoles. The other way Lechal can be order is in the form of shoes with a pod clip on the outside of the shoe, just at the ankle. The shoe option carries a bit higher price so I went with the insole option to start with. Both can be viewed via the Lechal Web site at,

What Comes in the Box

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Figure 1, Packaging and enclosed product from Lechal Haptic Footwear, including insole, two pods, instruction pamphlet, USB cord, and pod charger


It seemed to be no easy task to ship the product; it begins its journey from Hyderabad, India. Mine had a multitude of holds and clearance hoops to jump through as it went across India, to Leipzig, Germany, and then through various cities in the United States. The delays likely included rules related to shipping lithium batteries at least that is my impression after receiving many pages of material safety data sheets in the shipping paperwork. When your package does finally arrive, you will find the following items included (if you order the insole option):

  • Two insoles, one is obvious as you open the box and the other is below the pod and charger packaging, on the right side of the box
  • Two small metal pods that contain the vibration mechanism and bluetooth
  • One charger for the pods
  • One USB cable to connect the pods to a wall charging adapter or other USB power source (note, it only includes the USB cable)
  • One instruction pamphlet (you can also preview the instructions at,


Connecting the Pods

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Figure 2, Two Lechal pods that are rectangular in shape and have one long edge with textured bumps for orientation to the device.


The pods themselves a small, rectangular boxes that are metal and surprisingly weighty considering their size. When I originally ordered from Lechal (July, 2015), there was the option of having “Essential Pods” or “Premium Pods”. I opted to purchase the premium version rather than putting the funds into the Lechal shoe option. I could not remember what the difference was between the Essential and Premium models so I returned to the Web site to investigate and am now only able to find the purchase option for the “Essential” model; I believe the components for the motion sensor were enhanced in the “Premium” version. On the surface they appear essentially the same, with the only obvious difference being that the Essential comes with brushed steel and the Premium a matte black finish; but now, back to the the pods themselves. 

They have one edge that includes tactile markings in the form of bumps, to differentiate this edge from the other edges of the pod. The bumpy edge is where you would tap when you need to reset the pod, or wake it up so to speak when pairing initially with your smart phone. Before you begin pairing your pods you will want to have them fully charged by inserting them into the charger and plugging them into a USB power source. The full charge takes approximately two hours according to the documentation; there is an indicator light on the outside of the charger that will pulse while charging is occurring and will be continuously illuminated or steady when fully charged. I had bit of a struggle initially opening the charger but after several attempts, was able to open it by sliding on a bit of an angle from the textured area on one corner of the square charging dock (again, if all else fails, read the instructions…).

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Figure 3, Section from Lechal instructions showing how to open the charging dock and insert the pods


Once the pods are fully charged, you will want to bring them in very, very close proximity to your smart phone so that they can communicate and find one another with bluetooth. Hopefully as soon as you open the Lechal app, it will begin looking for the pods and find them immediately. If you are not so lucky, there is still hope. You will want to have your smartphone powered on and unlocked with the settings page opened to the bluetooth settings section. Take one of the pods and begin tapping continuously on the bumpy edge with your finger tip until it vibrates. At this point you will hopefully see the unit show up on your bluetooth device list that is displayed on your smart phone, it will likely say Lechal-MS; select it on your phone to connect. There should be no pin required for the two pods to connect to your smart phone via bluetooth. Once they are connected, you will see a Left and Right option on the Lechal app screen that is represented by an L and an R in the top right corner. This will let you tap on the left or right button to give a pulse to the corresponding pod so that you can place it into the correct insole. The insoles have lines around the toe area to trim them to the appropriate size for the shoe they will be inserted into.

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Figure 4, The Navigation home screen of the iOS app showing the “L” and “R” at the top right of the screen and options for Navigation, Fitness, Profile, and Settings pages at the bottom of the screen


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Figure 5, A screen shot of the Settings area of the app


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Figure 6, A screen shot of the Device Settings page with options to check the vibration of each pod and to launch a Vibration Tutorial


The Insole Option

Once you have the pods paired with your device and you have determined which is for the left and which is for the right, you can install them into the Lechal insoles. There is a rectangular cutout on the underside of the insoles where the pod is to be placed. The “Innovated in India” marker should be facing out toward you with the Lechal logo of the pod facing the inside of the insole. You can then insert the insoles into your shoes and begin to explore.

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Figure 7, The underside of one insole with a rectangular cutout where the pod would be placed


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Figure 8, Insoles for the left and right shoe with the pods placed into the rectangular cutouts on the underside of the insole; a small flap keeps them in place where there are inserted into the cutout.


This is a good opportunity to launch the Vibration Tutorial from the Device Settings option of the main Settings page. Each type of turn has a different haptic signature that you will want to learn so that you can correctly interpret the instruction from the device without having to read the display visually or listen with VoiceOver.

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Figure 9, Screen shot of the Vibration Tutorial screen with options for various turns, continuing straight, and destination


Working with the App

The app opens on the Navigation page that includes a search field at the top for entering an address or destination name, then shows your current location with a share icon to send your present location, and has a section for frequent travel options (i.e. Home, Work, and Favorites), and a section with categories that will show what is nearby within each category. The menu at the bottom of the screen provides links for the app’s four main areas or screens; Navigation, Fitness, Profile, and Settings. There are lots of different areas for customization, such as opting for Imperial Units of measurement or Metric, etc. 

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Figure 8, A screen shot of the Navigation page


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Figure 9, A screen shot of the Fitness page that includes number of steps taken, calories burned, as well as distance traveled and time in travel


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Figure 10, A screen shot of the Profile page showing the user’s name, their total steps for the day, and fitness achievements 


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Figure 11, A screen shot of the Settings page with options for managing and downloading maps, general settings, navigation settings, fitness profile, device settings, and an About/Help section


Navigating with App and Pods 

The app and haptic pods work together quite well while traveling a route. There seems to still be some areas to be developed in terms of VoiceOver, but the app is still in beta and there will likely be some updates along the way to bring the various aspects of the app further along in terms of refinement. You have the option of choosing from locations nearby or entering an address. Once you have chosen your destination, you will be given a screen to verify the pod positions to ensure that they are oriented correctly, and if they are not you have the ability to “swap” them in the app so that they will be receiving the correct message from your smart phone, to then relay the correct haptic message to you through your feet. Once your entered destination is found, you will be presented with an overview route screen and options for pedestrian mode, vehicle mode, or bicycle mode.


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Figure 12, Check Pod Position screen with buttons for testing “L” and “R” with a swap button between them.


Once your entered destination is found, you will be presented with an overview route screen and options for pedestrian mode, vehicle mode, or bicycle mode. This is a similar presentation to many mapping apps, such as Google Maps or Apple Maps. Once you choose Navigate from the route information displayed, you will begin seeing, or hearing if using VoiceOver, your first instruction on the route. You can also choose to view the steps sequentially on a new screen. Several of the screen images for the route are shown here.

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Figure 13, Overview of route with options for travel mode and Navigate button


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Figure 14, Single instruction step page with instructions to turn right in specified distance and summary of next step in route


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Figure 15, Step by step instructions in sequential order


IMG 9405

Figure 16, Bold presentation of turn direction and distance to destination


IMG 9406

Figure 17, Bold presentation of destination with distance in feet remaining in route


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Figure 18, Destination reached screen with time and distance displayed.


Overall Impressions

I found the system to be very usable and very useful; I was also pleasantly surprised with the insoles, finding them to be quite comfortable. The app will still take some learning on my part but I believe it will become more intuitive with each of its update iterations. It is important to remember that this app was not necessarily designed exclusively for travelers who are blind or visually impaired, it will also be targeted toward those interested in fitness and general health activities, etc. That being said, there is already a plethora of reasons to encourage exploration with this product. Like any GPS device or app, it will not take you exactly to the precise spot you want to be at; general orientation and mobility skills still prevail. It will however help guide you without needing to have your phone your in hand or your ears occluded; and if there is a dual sensory loss, haptics is an emerging communication form for electronic devices that is easily accessible to those travelers who are deafblind. I would love to see the developers connect with the developers of BlindSquare to see what their combined ingenuity to produce!

Thanks for taking the time to review this post and I hope you have the opportunity to give Lechal a spin : )


Chris Tabb 



Technology in Orientation and Mobility

May 8, 2015 • sensorytravel


Technology in Orientation and Mobility

A question came in about how technology is used during Orientation and Mobility lessons and I had so much fun typing the E-mail response I thought I would share it as a blog post.

There are so very many options today in terms of technology, but the basics of life shared in the terrific book Finding Wheels are still as relevant today as ever. The foundation of travel and getting where you want to go is enhanced by technologies but one still needs that special gray matter between the ears, a white cane or guide dog if non-visual or partial visual travel skills are needed, and a healthy serving of common sense. That being said, on with the toys : )

The Trekker Breeze is quite familiar to most folks as an accessible GPS solution that is on the verge of getting much, much better. HumanWare is about to release Trekker Breeze Plus. The Plus version will appear the same on the outside but the inside will have improved components that allow quicker and more stable connections to satellites, the ability to “lock in” Open Area mode, and I am sure a bevy of other enhancements. For those that have already purchased a Trekker Breeze, there is no need to take out a loan for the $800 to purchase a new device; there will be a $199 upgrade program. HumanWare will rebuild the originally purchased Trekker Breeze, giving it a new GPS module as well as a new battery if you send it in once the program gets up and running. Hopefully things will start happening toward the middle to end of May, 2015.

In terms of iOS and Android devices, there are a multitude of apps to choose from. A curated list of favorites with links and descriptions can be found at the blog post “Apps for Independence in the Community and Orientation and Mobility”

In terms of lessons with students (could also be used with Adults), here is another post with tech activities that can be done for each area of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) during Orientation and Mobility lessons; “Mixing O&M, Technology, and the Expanded Core Curriculum”.

Oh, just one more note, this will all be updating soon as folks begin using the “taptic engine” in the Apple Watch as it will give tactile/haptic feedback to the wrist to alert the traveler when a turn is required along a route; there are different taps for right and left turns.

Mixing O&M, Technology, and the Expanded Core Curriculum

October 14, 2014 • sensorytravel

Mixing O&M, Technology, and the Expanded Core Curriculum

Here are some suggestions for using apps for each area of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) as part of orientation and mobility lessons, and also a brief description of an option for a GPS app, BlindSquare. So, without further ado, here goes…  

Compensatory Skills:

Braille Touch is an app that allows six finger entry of text into the iPhone and can be used for route directions, grocery lists, phone numbers, etc. Compensatory Skills are clearly represented in this activity, and rather than the Orientation and Mobility Specialist “Teaching Braille”, they merely encouraging the generalization of the student’s already developed braille skills for use in the community, without having to bring a Perkins Brailler to the grocery store.  

Recreation and Leisure:

Geocaching is a fun activity that can be made accessible with GPS apps, such as BlindSquare. This is a great example of a mainstream activity that is developing orientation skills and concepts while also developing Recreation and Leisure skills, not to mention many core curriculum concepts.  

Adaptive Technology:

Just talking about mobile devices begins to address the area of Assistive/Adaptive Technology, but going beyond just talking and exposing a student to something like the compass app might be the connection the student needs to actually enjoy learning about cardinal directions; they can even pick their favorite digitized voice for the compass! Using apps that can read text have a multitude of uses. An app that has just recently been released that works very well is KNFB Reader. It photographs text and automatically begins reading it.  

Independent Living Skills:

Independent Living Skills includes things like going grocery shopping; the skills involved in grocery shopping are facilitated by scanning apps for bar codes and price checkers such as Red Laser or LookTel Recognizer. Another area of independent living is knowing the weather before heading out for the day to be able to dress appropriately, and students can address this with a weather app. Staying organized with a planning calendar and contact lists for calling transit companies and checking in at school, the ideas go on and on; this is a huge category.  

Self Determination:

Self Determination includes self knowledge and there are certainly ways to use the internet browser built into a mobile device to search about eye conditions; there are also simulator apps to demonstrate their eye conditions while they advocate for their needs. Students can set personal goals and track their progress using planning apps, notes, journals, and calendars.  

Social Interaction:

Telephone, texting, Facebook, Twitter, E-mail and many other resources built into phones and mobile devices are great teaching tools for Social Interaction, especially as student’s peers use these tools for social exchange, social planning, etc.  

Sensory Efficiency:

Sensory Efficiency can be addressed using a camera app or CCTV app for zooming in on directory signs or even produce prices in grocery stores, reading labels on packages, etc. And an example for non-visual skills, recording the traffic sounds at an intersection and then using it as an audio track for practicing the identification of lulls for timing crossings is one strategy. One of my favorite “homework” activities is to have a student listen to their favorite music, and while they are listening, ask them to practice listening and focusing on just one instrument so they can use the same skill while analyzing an intersection and listening for just one lane of traffic.  

Career Education:

How about looking up the address of prospective employer and then planning a trip to get a job application, or investigating the working conditions at a job site; sure is beginning to sound a lot like a Career Education activity. And, by taking the bus to get there, you are also practicing public transportation and taking on addressing more Orientation and Mobility. Wow two ECC’s in one activity : )  

Orientation and Mobility:

More specifically about Orientation and Mobility, planning bus routes with local transit apps, using GPS apps to virtually explore areas before exploring there in person, even asking Siri for their present location while traveling in residential areas or finding an address for a destination.   Have the student show you what they know and teach you how to do something using an adaptive gesture. What area(s) of the ECC would teaching someone else be?   Activities can easily be combined to address multiple areas in the same lesson.  

Lots of Apps for O&M:

Google Maps, Seeing Eye GPS, BlindSquare, and Nearby Explorer are just a few examples, but there are many more apps available for the various mobile device platforms, whether the device uses iOS, Android, or Windows Mobile. The Nearby Explorer app, which is only available on the Android platform presently, is available as a purchased app from the Google Play Store but can also be purchased directly through APH with Quota Funds. This is especially helpful if a student or client already has invested in an Android device, as the app alone is $99. Seeing Eye GPS is another full featured GPS app and is presently only available as an iOS app; it also carries a hefty price tag as far as apps go. It is free to download but requires a subscription. You can now purchase a monthly subscription for $9.99 to try it out rather than having to spend $70 for one year, or even $130 for a two year subscription.

The option I generally recommend people get started with if they have an iPhone or an iPad with a cellular plan is a $30 app called BlindSquare. It is not full featured for routing on its own, but it ties into other apps which are free, such as Transit and Google Maps to provide point to point directions. It also provides the user the ability to enter the latitude and longitude. The ability to edit and enter your own coordinates allows you to set a landmark for things like the front door to a building on a college campus one of your students will be attending, without ever having to have been there. The student can then learn how to do the same and have a full directory of landmarks before they even arrive at school!

The same strategy can be used for an early alert on bus travel about a stop location. It was previously possible to do this with a BrailleNote that had a GPS receiver and Sendero GPS software, but it is very nice that it can now be down with a reasonably priced app. Even for students who are very new to technology, all they have to do is open the app while they travel on a bus and it will begin reading the name of every street they bus crosses and all they have to do is listen. It allows them to have a bit more information about their location to know where they are along their route and to prepare for their departure from the bus.

Capturing the Moment!

October 13, 2014 • sensorytravel

How can a student who is blind or visually impaired have access to memories of events, just as a student who is visual looks at a photograph? Well instead of sending out and posting only photographs, how about including “audiographs” as well. Most folks today have the ability to use their mobile device to take pictures but they also have the ability to capture audio.

When doing activities with students where you would take a photograph to capture a memory, try adding in a sound capture with everyone in the group saying hello, where they are, what they are doing, and if they are having fun. A student who is blind or visually impaired will then have access to that same memory for years to come and can enjoy reflecting on it. In fact you may even find that students who are visual enjoy having an audiograph in their memory files to help relieve or share a moment they experienced. Just as a person who is visual can see the emotion in the facial expression, such as a smile for joy, the emotions of those in the audiograph will be conveyed in the voices of those in the audio scene being captured.

Photographs from a sporting event, campout, or summer program can are often added to a CD, sent to Dropbox for sharing as a download, or simply E-mailed; sound files can be saved and shared in the same way. So next time how about adding in a few MP3’s to make the memories accessible to everyone!

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Geocaching Non-visually

October 13, 2014 • sensorytravel

The Geocaching app on the iPhone with VoiceOver affords a way to search for the presence of geo caches in your area, but as far as using it in an accessible way, it is a bit of a challenge as the app has a compass to direct the user but the compass position is not relayed over the VoiceOver. What you can get from the app is the latitude and longitude of the cache itself which can then be entered into another app that is more accessible. The app BlindSquare (costs about $29.99) allows a user to enter their own landmark via latitude and longitude by editing the coordinates. The technical part is that Geocaching displays coordinates in a hybrid form (e.g. 32˚ 49.818′ N and 116˚ 46.574′ W) while BlindSquare uses Decimal degrees (e.g. 32.8303˚ N and 116.7762˚ W); luckily there are free conversion apps you can get to do the math for you. Some of the students on Team 6 might enjoy this challenge while the students in much more functional programs on Team 3 would likely benefit from you preparing the app for them and saving the landmark for your outing.

BlindSquare can provide directions with cardinal directions (N, S, E, W), relative directions (To Your Right, To Your Left, etc.), or clock face (toward One O’Clock, or Three O’Clock), and can have distances express as feet or meters.

The app will get you close to the cache but locating the actual box will be more manual. One way to adapt this is to arrive early and to have a small sound emitter placed at the cache or coordinate directions with tactile landmarks that will be clues to bring the students in closer. At some point you may be able use things like iBeacons and Nearables (just visit Estimote for fun dreaming about how you could use the technology).

There are many off the shelf products for those with a lot of usable vision, such as the Garmin Colorado series with big bright screens, but to allow a combination of visual and non-visual students to really have access to the same information, the VoiceOver and app combination is about the only thing I am aware of.

Hope this helps!!!

App Options for the Community:

October 13, 2014 • sensorytravel

Many students and consumers have been enjoying the information provided from TapTapSee, an app that allows a user to take a photograph with the their phone and receive back a description of what was photographed when they have VoiceOver running on their phone. This might be taking a picture of a can of soup at the grocery store to determine whether it is Tomato or Chicken Noodle, a photo of a shoe to know if it is black or brown, or even a picture of the sky to hear if it is clear blue or cloudy. The challenge for many folks recently is that the company has found they must now switch to a pay for use model rather than the previously free access. The new fees are 100 Picture Pack for $7.99 or a Month of Unlimited Pictures $9.99. The fee for use is set to begin after the user takes 20 pictures; the user will then be prompted to choose a pay plan to continue. This at least allows a person to try to the service for evaluation before being required to pay for use. The benefit received for this premium is quick response time with clear descriptions, even reading text back if the photograph is clear. The link for the TapTapSee site is

For those who prefer to stay on the free model, there is a recently released app called My Smart Eye from StarHub Mobile and the Singapore Association for the Blind. This company uses “micro-volunteering” to recognize the images sent in by users. Rather than paying for image recognition services as the TapTapSee company must do, the MySmartEye app sends the images to volunteers who have downloaded the app and signed in via their Facebook account and who then provide a description of the photograph. At the present time, there is a significant delay in hearing the response. If the user is lucky enough to take the picture when a volunteer is describing the picture it could happen very quickly, but if not, you may have already left the store where you took the picture of a product to find out what it was before you receive the description. Also, the volunteer receives a picture which is quite blurry and may not be able to provide as detailed or accurate of a description as those delivered by TapTapSee. Hopefully the volunteer pool will increase the response time will be more rapid. The link for the MySmartEye is

Though the monthly subscription may be expensive, especially for students, for the integrity and consistency of TapTapSee, the 100 Picture Pack seems a reasonable option for those who can use it for specific purposes and for times when other ways of soliciting information are not available. It is imported for users to remember that the information they photograph may be made public in some way, such as by having the photograph described by another person if the image matching software does not identify the image. So, making sure to not photograph personally identifiable information, such as a Social Security Card or credit card numbers is a necessity for keeping that information secure.

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“Can an iPod be used with GPS and other apps that are handy for O&M instruction?”

October 13, 2014 • sensorytravel

Often the question will come up about using an iPod touch or iPad with GPS; this post is intended to give at least a start to answering the question. The iPod and the iPad have different answers to the question though. If you have had a full night’s sleep and or a fresh cup of coffee and are feeling ready to wade into the details, here we go…

The iPod touch and the iPad with WiFi only do come with a digital compass app and when connected to a WiFi network can determine your location. When they do not have internet access, they cannot use location information but the internal sensor will allow the compass to work.

Here is the description from Apple’s iPod Touch product page:
“For iPod touch with Maps, the Maps application provides your approximate location using information based on your proximity to known Wi-Fi networks (when on and available). The more accurate the available information, the smaller the circle identifying your position on the map. The feature is not available in all areas. Known Wi-Fi networks are predominantly in urban areas.”

One way that the iPod and the WiFi only iPad can be used away from a location that has WiFi, such as a school, office, or home, is to connect the device to the a personal hotspot or to an external GPS receiver, such as the Dual Electronics GPS Receiver (Link for product at,

There are some apps that may give limited information about location based on Skyhook data, which is information provided by local networks in their WiFi, this information is transmitted even when not actually “connected” to the WiFi network.

Generally, unless in a very rural area with limited cellular service, the safest route to guarantee the best integrity of information is to share the internet connection by using the option to set up a personal hotspot on a smartphone (such as the instructor’s telephone when they are in close proximity to the student) or having the student carry a mobile hotspot device such as a MiFi.

The iPad with cellular and WiFi capability, like the iPhone, uses hardware that allows it to use Assisted GPS, or A GPS, which uses a combination of information from GPS and cellular/WiFi data to identify your location. The A GPS allows you to have much faster information about your location than waiting for a connection to satellites alone.

So, there are many answers to the original question, “Can an iPod be used with GPS and other apps that are handy for O&M instruction?” Each application purchased on the Apple App Store has information about which devices can be used with it and will generally include a disclaimer for the iPod Touch and iPad with WiFi only to let the purchaser know that the full functionality of the app requires an internet connection. The trick then is to get the internet connection to the device.

As new devices arrive in the marketplace, new capabilities arrive, so the answer today may be different than tomorrow’s answer. It is a quickly evolving area and one that our students generally take to like water.

Happy Adventuring with Technology!
: )