Microsoft has launched a new app called Soundscape that uses 3D audio technology for mapping out landmarks and points of interest. The app works with an ordinary smartphone and any pair of stereo headphones. It is currently available for iOS.
The app allows the users to set audio beacons at specific destinations and places. Once set, the app is programmed to provide 3D audio cues (which can be perceived directionally) to help improve the users’ ‘ambient awareness’ as they travel to those places. By incorporating the information provided by Soundscape, the users are able to build a mental image of the surrounding, they can visualize ‘what’s around them’. This helps the visually impaired to navigate through the cities more efficiently.
The Soundscape app is also capable of calling out points of interest, roads, and intersections that the users 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 one walks by, something that other navigation techniques used by people with visual impairments can’t always help with.
The chances of getting lost reduce significantly with the Soundscape app. In case a user isn’t sure where they are or which way to go, they just need to hold the phone flat in their hand with the top edge facing the direction they want to go. Then by using the buttons at the bottom of the screen, they can locate nearby landmarks and navigate. The app seems promising for easing the navigation woes of the visually challenged.