The 21st century has introduced us to so many technologies, platforms and tools that help us live in a world of “constant connect and contact”. Instant messaging on all devices, sending and receiving photos whenever and wherever, notifications of all sorts all the times from mobile apps and wearables – we are getting information from various sources constantly. In terms of practical uses, this is great for an able bodied person who can use these notifications for, let’s say commuting from one place to another, if their wearable or phone notifies that the next bus is in 10 minutes so it’s okay if they walk and don’t run! However, can blind people take advantage of such mechanisms in a similar fashion? Commuting and traversing through a neighborhood or community is always stressful for blind people, however experienced they may be. First of all, they have to spend a lot of time learning routes, and even then, there are silent cyclists, smart cars, low hanging branches from trees, construction in the area amongst other things that may be overwhelming and take them by surprise. Is there a way around these obstructions that can add ease, comfort and independence to the way blind people navigate? Can we have a “constant contact and connect” system for blind people that can make them aware of their surroundings and make daily living and moving around a breeze?
A few months ago, Microsoft, in collaboration with Guide Dogs in UK and Future Cities Catapult, an urban innovation and integration company, launched a very interesting pilot program that has potential to change the way blind people navigate.
“No. 9 bus is approaching.”
“Your chiropractor is 10 meters ahead.”
“Your favorite Chinese restaurant is around the corner.”
“Beware: this is a main road.”
Microsoft’s 3D Soundscape Technology is designed to help blind people fully experience their environment without worrying about surprises and stress, and providing more independence when they are out and about. This technology consists of a location that has wifi and bluetooth powered sensors in the physical environment that will communicate with a blind person and give them verbal cues so they know where they are and what they are approaching.
There are three components to this technology:
A Windows phone that will listen to external and internal sensors around the person.
A pair of bone conducting headphones that sends sounds and verbal cues directly to their inner ear, leaving their ears free for environmental noise. These headphones rest against the sides of their head.
“A boosted” route: a route that has a lot of sensors in the physical environment.
As a blind person is walking through a neighborhood, they will receive all sorts of notifications and verbal cues from the sensors – turn by turn direction, nearest drug store, bus schedule, warnings, etc. It is also capable of guiding them to the aisle that has their favorite cookies once they are inside a store. Once they are there, they can use their phone to scan the barcode on the item and find out the price! With 3D Soundscape Technology, they are practically hands-free.
This technology can be used by itself or as a complimentary asset along with a walking dog to enhance someone’s experience in their daily environment, and can bring a paradigm shift in the way blind people operate. This is still in the very initial stages of development and there are many hurdles to be overcome, but just knowing that there is someone who is giving very thoughtful consideration to the way blind people navigate is truly refreshing and exciting.
Hit the source link to read a very fascinating story on how this project came into existence and all the people involved including the designers and testers.