Microsoft in collaboration with the Guide Dogs association in the U.K. and wearable tech specialists AfterShockz, have developed a new tool that could help some of the two million visually impaired people in UK navigate through crowded subways, trains and roads more easily and safely, even if they’re new to that place.
According to the Microsoft website, the headset will work with Windows Phones by providing audio cues about your surrounding area including the potential hazards (like low-hanging trees,) or attractions (like a decent coffee shop, along the way). So users know where they are, what’s around them and therefore where to go next via the built-in GPS tracker, compass and gyroscope. A series of sound helps regulate almost every factor from direction faced to distance traveled. Microsoft’s 3D SoundScape technology creates an illusion that the sounds are coming from a certain direction.
Amos Miller, a Microsoft employee has been blind since a genetic disorder claimed his eyesight in his 20’s and realized that technology might be able to help him enrich his life and that of others with visual impairment. Thus, this was the inspiration behind development of the new headset. Here’s how it works:
Instead of sitting in ears like headphones, it has two pads that rest on your upper jawbone and transmit sound vibration to the inner ear- bypassing the eardrum. This helps the wearer capture other sounds such as traffic noises and conversation, apart from those coming from the 3D headset.
It uses signals from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to relay cues into a series of clicks, beeps, and verbal communications that the user can hear.
The idea is not to replace tools like guide dogs and canes. Guide dogs provide more safety to a blind person’s life than navigational assistance as they‘re able to detect things like cracks in the pavement or an out-of-control driver that the headset could never do. But Microsoft hopes the new gadget would definitely increase a visually impaired person’s confidence in cities and enrich their experience while they travel.
Microsoft’s headset is currently in its prototype stage . Once it does reach commercial availability, we may expect it to be compatible across mobile devices other than those running Windows Phone.