Microsoft Soundscape Helps Those with Vision Impairments Explore the World

Posted on March 1, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in iOS, Mobile with 5 Comments

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.

Download Microsoft Soundscape for iPhone


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Comments (5)

5 responses to “Microsoft Soundscape Helps Those with Vision Impairments Explore the World”

  1. Ugur

    Very nice. No matter how much one moans about this or that company for other (often valid) reasons, i love it when they do very cool things like this.

  2. david.thunderbird

    The only dig I've got is I ain't got NO iphoney.

  3. rvanallen

    I am very encouraged with Microsoft Soundscape. I have Supported a severely vision impaired person for a number of years on his PC. He was a EMT and Fireman until a medical condition took his sight down to about 10-percent. For 8+ years his software suite of tools include Freedom Scientific's JAWS (read back) and MAGic (magnification). Once he leaves the PC, his world pretty much closes. I see him walking around our residential area with his "white cane" and little else for navigation. This product would open up his life. Unfortunately, at the moment the product shows as an iOS option. I would hope Android would become available soon.

    As an update... Did an on-line chat with Microsoft Support (03-04-18) about Android availability. Was told this is currently in beta.

  4. Greg Green

    This is very cool and it’s amazing how bad MS marketing continues to be. On the member side there’s a comment from an MS employee who didn’t even know this had happened.

    I remember about a year ago MS did something very interesting with mosquitoes and hardly sold the news to anyone. I can’t remember what they did but it too was very cool.

    These are the kind of things MS Marketing should be advertising on a regular basis but don’t seem to. Or maybe I’m just watching the wrong shows and not seeing the ads.

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