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Microsoft’s 3D soundscape technology aims to make navigation easier for the visually impaired

Microsoft's 3D soundscape technology looks to make navigation easier for the visually impaired

Routine tasks such as walking from your home to the store is simple enough for most people; you swiftly move down the steps to the curb, you hop over and navigate your way around the remnant puddles from last night’s downpour, taking all the right turns as you make your way to the store and excusing yourself as you pass through a crowd of people at the entrance. Now imagine accomplishing that if you were one of the millions of people around the world who are visually impaired.

Microsoft's 3D soundscape technology looks to make navigation easier for the visually impairedThat’s where Microsoft’s 3D soundscape technology comes in. The solution works using a combination of a Windows Phone, a pair of bone-conducting headphones which sit just behind the cheek bone and transmit sound directly into ones inner ear, leaving the ears open to capture environmental noises and to have conversations with, and a series of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth beacons placed among a “boosted route” in a city.

The beacons work to provide both the smartphone and the headphones information including GPS turn-by-turn instructions as well as store location information, bus arrivals and more. Even after you’ve reached the store, sensors inside will help you traverse the aisles, and product barcodes can be scanned to get all its details read out to the user.

“[the technology is] an audio-rich experience in which the headset, smartphone and indoor and outdoor beacons all work together to enhance the mobility, confidence and independence of people with vision loss.” – Jennifer Warnick, Lead Writer at Microsoft

Microsoft has worked with a number of organizations in the United Kingdom to bring this early prototype to reality including the Guide Dogs charity, Network Rail, Reading Buses, Future Cities Catapult, the Reading Borough Council and Tesco. As the technology matures and more partners join, Microsoft’s 3D soundscape technology could be implemented in major cities around the world, making navigation for the visually impaired a lot more convenient.

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