App to help people with visual needs to navigate safely while walking
Australia, with versions available for UK and the USA
The app was developed by Microsoft Australia in partnership with Vision Australia, a not for profit organisation providing services to support people who are blind or who have low vision.
The app enables people with visual needs to:
The app uses `3D’ audio technology so that audio cues and labels sound like they are coming from the direction of the place being described.
Users will need a pair of stereo headsets, for example:
“Microsoft Australia and Vision Australia have announced the availability of Soundscape, a new application that empowers people who are blind or have low vision to explore the world around them through a 3D audio experience.
Soundscape uses 3D audio and location awareness to provide users with information about their surroundings to help build a mental map of what’s around them. By setting an audio beacon on a chosen destination or a familiar landmark, a user will always be able to keep track of where that location is as they make their way there. The app will also call out roads, intersections, and landmarks as a user walks past.
By wearing a stereo headset plus Soundscape, people who are blind or have low vision can explore the outdoor world with greater independence. With the 3D audio technology, the sounds are perceived as coming from the direction of the point of interest, so the user can build an image of what’s around from the sounds in the environment and the information coming from the Soundscape app.
Unlike traditional navigation apps that provide turn by turn directions, Soundscape helps users build an appreciation of the space as they move through it, empowering them to make their own navigational choices while at the same time enhancing their overall experience.
Used in combination with traditional mobility aids, like canes and dogs, a person with low or no vision can get from A to B and gain an appreciation of their surroundings on the journey – particularly if the environment is an unfamiliar one.
“Soundscape gives me confidence in an outside environment, by helping me understand what’s around me – whether it’s a restaurant, café, railway station, walking bike/track, park, business or even a street name. It allows me to build a mental map of my neighbourhood,” said David Woodbridge, Access Technology Advisor, Vision Australia.
“Rather than dictate what I should do, it allows me to make my own decisions based on the information it is providing, meaning I am always in control. For me, it really is about feeling stress free when I’m out and about. The app is easy to use and I have my own personal markers set for different locations. My local coffee shop is always a priority and the ‘coffee shop’ marker on Soundscape gets a lot of use.”
…The intention of Soundscape is not to replace aids such as a dog guide or cane, but to enable a user to more naturally and intuitively connect with their environment without disrupting their ability to attend to other tasks, activities, or interactions with other people.
To this end, the product development group in Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research (AI&R) team have been working directly with Vision Australia’s Orientation and Mobility team for the last six months to have them test and integrate the use of Soundscape in their work with clients.”
“Soundscape is a GPS app that runs on your iPhone. It makes you feel a lot more relaxed, and the fact that you can go to a place and then find your way back again…It really allows me to access the community much more comfortably.”
“It will give a bit more sense of security of your environment. Our orientation mobility specialists have been trained how to use the app, so they can pass it on to our clients…to be able to get to places safely and independently.”
- Rolf Geerlings
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