Imagine losing your sight and having to rely on other people to help you get out and about, or being restricted to the same four of five short routes that have taken months to learn. Or imagine being in a foreign country, unable to read the signs and unsure of where you need to go. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to overcome those challenges independently, allowing you to spontaneously and confidently get out to explore the world around you?
After months of in-depth field testing and research, Microsoft, Guide Dogs and Future Cities Catapult have launched the results of the first phase of an exciting project which will revolutionise how people with sight loss, and the sighted, experience the urban landscape, creating a revolutionary new application of 3D sound.
Microsoft, Guide Dogs and Future Cities Catapult have launched the results of the first phase of an exciting project which will revolutionise how people with sight loss, and the sighted, experience the urban landscape
The headset creates a personalised 3D-soundscape transmitted through the wearer’s jaw bone
Using a small headset, paired with a Windows Phone, the new application uses cloud based location and navigation data working with a network of information beacons placed in urban locations to create a personalised 3D-soundscape transmitted through the wearer’s jaw bone. The application will help both orientation and navigation and also provides enhanced contextual information such as shops, points of interest and addional journey details to help the user build up an understanding of their surroundings. This information is transmitted through bone-conducting technology, which means that sounds appear to come from outside of the user’s head. For example, if there is a coffee shop on the user’s right, the coffee shop will be read out from their right, allowing them to build up a mental image of their surroundings.
The act of getting around can be a nerve-wracking experience for too many people, especially the blind and partially sighted. With two million people in the UK already living with sight loss and two hundred and eighty five million visually impaired people around the world, this is a growing problem. The ability to travel independently, or not, can significantly affect a person’s ability to go to school or work, engage in sport or get to and from social activities.
Kirsty Grice is a person living with sight loss , and has been trialling the new technology. She describes her feelings: “We want to live like normal people, we don’t always want to plan ahead to see if we can get community transport, or a taxi or something, we want to be able to just jump on a bus and go somewhere and have that freedom.”
Kirsty Grice is trialling the new technology
Kirsty is not alone; this genesis of the project was rooted in personal experiences. Amos Miller is a Microsoft employee and former trustee of Guide Dogs who is visually impaired. He was inspired by becoming a father and wanted to share in and enjoy everyday experiences with his daughter, without having to worry about the challenges of exploring new environments.
by the tracks
November 05, 2014
The headset creates a revolutionary new application of 3D sound.
“Living and researching complex challenges has informed our design process every step of the way,” Amos explains. “We have been able to develop something that has huge potential for society at large, not just those living with sight loss.”
At this stage, the technology is a demonstrator which is being tested on a sample journey from Reading to London encompassing walking routes, bus travel, shopping, and train travel. The long-term ambition for the programme is to bring other organisations and local authorities across the UK on board, so that more people living with sight loss, or anyome living in a city, can benefit from its services.
The long-term ambition for the programme is to bring other organisations and local authorities across the UK on board
Our cities are becoming rich with information and Cities Unlocked is paving the way for the future of personalised products and services. Harnessing the power of this technology to open up more of our world to people with sight loss is just the start of an amazing journey for all of us.
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