Microsoft has a new app out today called Soundscape that uses 3D audio technology to help map out landmarks and points of interest through audio cues.
The company has been working on using 3D soundscapes of audio for navigation as early as 2014 when the company first began experimenting with a bone conduction headset and smartphone system. The Soundscape app is built off of that research, packaging it into a form that works with an ordinary smartphone and any pair of stereo headphones.
Users can set audio beacons at specific destinations and places, and the app will provide 3D audio cues (which can be perceived directionally) to help improve their “ambient awareness” as they travel there. Users will then be able to incorporate that information from the Soundscape as they build a mental image of what’s around them.
The Soundscape app can describe different shops and street names as you walk by
The Soundscape app can also call out points of interest, roads, and intersections that you pass, along with more specific settings for describing a user’s current location and direction, or what’s coming up ahead of them. For example, it can describe different shops and street names as you walk by, something that other navigation techniques used by people with visual impairments can’t always help with.
If a user isn’t sure where they are or which way to travel, they can hold the phone flat in their hand with the top edge facing the direction they want to go and then use the buttons at the bottom of the screen to locate nearby landmarks and navigate.
The app is designed to be used in tandem with more traditional means of navigation, not replace them. As Erin Lauridsen, the access technology director at LightHouse for the Blind explains, “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.”
Microsoft Soundscape is available now for iOS. The company has yet to announce plans for an Android version.