Microsoft revamps its navigation headphones for the blind

1 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Microsoft Beefs Up Smart Headsets That Help The Blind To ‘See’.

The first prototype of the technology was released in 2011 in conjunction with Guide Dogs UK as part of their membership to Cities Unlocked, a UK organisation dedicated to improving accessibility for those with impaired vision.Microsoft and British charity Guide Dogs are seemingly in the works of creating smart headsets to assist visually impaired people in overcoming their daily needs, by navigating their surroundings with the aid of sound. At the time the navigational headset that could be worn by blind people to give them a sense of what was around them was still in its developmental stage.

The headphones were paired with a smartphone app that communicated with wi-fi and Bluetooth beacons strategically placed around the town, providing spatial awareness of approaching obstacles. Since its creation, Cities Unlocked has been developing headphones that will describe the surrounding area of a location to better assist with navigation.

The device has now received a substantial hardware and software upgrade, using what Microsoft have dubbed “3D soundscape technology”, which works like a descriptive GPS system, providing the wearer with rich audio information about their surroundings, such as local cafes or approaching public transport. The update features two new experiences that enable users to get extra knowledge about their surrounding, either by issuing voice commands or by giving instructions via a remote. In addition to the vision impaired, the system could also be applied in future as a virtual tour guide, allowing visitors to learn more about the city they are in; or used in working environments where visibility is poor. When this actually goes into production and into the market, we’re fairly certain that it would help a large part for a visually impaired person’s life. Yale University’s robotics lab is developing a device called the Haptic Sandwich that assists the blind by changing shape to indicate distance and the direction to travel.

Microsoft says that it made a considerable makeover on the technology’s second phase, making it a lot more “descriptive” as opposed to being “prescriptive.” Two brand new experiences have been integrated into the technology’s software. The improved device, that fits to the ears, can now understand voice commands which might be used to ask for further information or to replay audio that the user has just heard. The new technology also comes equipped with a navigation feature, directing wearers through the use of sound prompts and directional audio, which can allows them to come up with a mental image to enable them to be more comfortable and independent when they are outside. “Guiding by sound in the same way a lighthouse guides by light, this technology demonstrator paints you a picture with sound,” says Microsoft. “Placing spatially situated synthetic sounds around you — both verbal and non-verbal — it creates a 3D soundscape of the world in a language you can understand.” The wearable device has two significant features, the “Look Ahead” and “Orientate,” which are responsible for providing info on what is in the way and around the wearer.

It will give you added information,too, so you won’t just be told there is a bus stop in from of you, it will also tell you when the next bus arrives. The remote consists of three buttons, each associated with specific functions such as navigating a user, repeating a command, or providing knowledge about surroundings.

Following a Microsoft Cities Unlocked project it was revealed that around 180,000 registered blind individuals in the UK said they are afraid to leave the house unaccompanied, so such a device could help a considerable amount of people around the world. Furthermore, Microsoft also developed “CityScribe,” an integrated application that allows people to tag hindrances (hurdles that people face daily) in their city, which most of the mapping sites fail to pick.

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