Microsoft and UK charity Guide Dogs improve technology for the visually impaired

For the visually impaired, being able to hear their surroundings is imperative to their daily lives. Microsoft collaborated with UK charity Guide Dogs to take this a step further last year, with a headset designed to help them navigate their cities. This headset used bone conduction to send physical and aural cues to the user, as they moved around. Vibrations, clicks, and other aural cues are used to help inform the user of their surroundings. However, in the ever-changing world of technology and to further help people who are visually impaired, Microsoft set off to push those features even further.

Jamail Chudge, head of the Cities Unlocked program for Microsoft stated:

After phase one last year we started to think deeply about how we can empower people to be more independent, more mobile and act in much the same way as a sighted person would do.

In the latest update to this headset, Microsoft has enabled the user to receive voiced information about their surroundings. Utilizing technology like GPS, Bluetooth beacons within buildings, Bing Maps and software designed with the help of Guide Dogs, Microsoft has allowed the user to paint a mental image of their town. When traveling about, the user is prompted through voice about approaching businesses, landmarks, obstacles to avoid, locations within a building and transportation, with arrival/departure notifications. Coupled with the previous technology of using vibrations to pinpoint direction, Microsoft has created a “3D” way for people visually impaired to experience their own homes. To further enhance the users immersion, an embedded microphone offers the ability to talk out questions, gaining further information about their surroundings.

With Microsoft, their goal is to empower people and to do more. Giving people who are visually impaired a way to interact with their surroundings, like us who are sighted, is a further step towards that goal.

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What other applications do you see these headsets being used?