An inspiring new Microsoft app for iPhone uses 3D audio to help the blind and vision-impaired better navigate in the real world.
“Soundscape empowers more people to explore the world around them through a 3D audio experience,” Microsoft distinguished engineer Rico Malvar writes. “The Soundscape app enriches your perception of surroundings as you walk, helping you get where you want to go.”
Unlike Microsoft’s faux accessibility addition to Windows 10 Setup, where Cortana blares at you nonsensically when you first configure a new PC, Soundscape is an example of something that will be broadly useful. Instead of targeting a niche scenario—a vision-impaired user wishing to set up Windows 10 by themselves, once—Soundscape targets the real-life day-to-day. As such, this effort should be applauded.
Soundscape isn’t designed to replace existing navigational aids like dogs, canes, or basic blindness skills. Instead, it helps users set audio beacons at familiar locations and landmarks, and then use its 3D audio capabilities to help them understand ambient awareness while out n the world.
“With 3D audio, the sounds are perceived as coming from the point of interest, so the user can build a mental image of what’s around from the acoustic environment – the soundscape – of sounds in the environment and those from the Soundscape app,” Malvar explains.
Soundscape can run in the background, and it can be used side-by-side with other navigational aids. It will call out roads and other landmarks as the user walks, and it will respond to a particular phone orientation—where you hold the phone flat in your hand with the top edge facing the direction of interest—by letting you know what’s there.
Soundscape is the result of a Microsoft research project and is available in the US and UK, and is, of course free. You can learn more from the Microsoft Soundscape website.
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