Microsoft has launched Soundscape, a free app that helps blind and visually impaired people navigate in their surroundings.
The app, launched in the UK on iPhone and iOS, provides information about your environment with synthesised binaural audio, creating the effect of 3D sound. Using headphones connected to a mobile phone, the app tracks your movement using location and activity sensors, and lets you move towards a self-set audio beacon.
The sounds created by Soundscape are perceived as coming from the point of interest, so the user can build a mental image of their surroundings. Microsoft’s development team worked closely with UK charity Guide Dogs and US non-profit organisation Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in testing and refining the app.
The end product has several useful features, including the ability to run in the background while you use other programs, and can be used with traditional navigation support methods such as guide dogs and canes.
Shona Black, a guide dog owner, said:
I use My Location in Soundscape, which tells me what’s around me. It’s amazing, it tells me all the street names that I didn’t know before. One of the most useful things is that you can put in points of interest. I’ve put in a tower that is at the end of my street, which is really handy, and that’s where I head towards for home.
Tom Wright, Chief Executive of Guide Dogs, said:
If you’re living with sight loss, getting around towns and cities can be daunting. Choosing where to go and what to do is an impossible dream. Soundscape will change this for many people.
We worked with Microsoft to put people with sight loss at the heart of the development of Soundscape. This close collaboration has resulted in an app that makes exploring towns and cities a more enjoyable experience for those with sight loss, enabling people to make spontaneous choices about where they go and what they do.
Erin Lauridsen, Access Technology Director at LightHouse for the Blind, said:
Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that. The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.
At LightHouse, we know that accessible technology can play a huge role in helping more people be productive, gain confidence and become self-reliant. Soundscape addresses a crucial need — a tool for efficiently exploring your surroundings. That is a game-changer.
You can download Soundscape for free from the iTunes page.