Microsoft developing smart wearable headset for safety of visually impaired
Life for visually-impaired people can be really tough as they have to struggle even for the basic things like going to the other part of the city without much action. To make life a tad easier for blind people and help them in commuting safely in the city; Microsoft, Guide Dogs and the UK government’s Future Cities Catapult have embarked on the Cities Unlocked project. The soundscape technology of this project comes in the form of a smart wearable headset that is paired-up with Windows Phone app to safely guide people with vision impairment into never before ventures sections of the city without getting stressed.
The headset is modified version of AfterShokz headphones that comes with bone conductive technology which transmits sound through vibration so that the wearer can hear sound from the headset and also the outside environmental sounds. To ensure pin-point location tracking the headset has a custom made 3D-printed box on the back side which is loaded with sensors like accelerometer, gyroscope, compass and GPS chip. Combined with Microsoft Bing Maps and location data from GPS along with the network of Bluetooth-enabled beacons setup around the city makes it easier for people with visual impairment to commute safely.
The system has been developed in such a way that it can provide details of surrounding environment like a low-hanging branch of a tree or car parked along the pavement. To make things interesting, the headset has buttons that let user access information about points of interest like a town hall or architectural wonder. For added immersive experience Microsoft’s 3D audio technology ensures that the sound is positioned in the direction of the attraction in question.
Amos Miller, director of enterprise strategy at Microsoft Asia, who suffers from sight loss and has been involved in the project:
We have built a means to help people create a mental map in real time. By painting a picture of the world through sound, similarly to how a lighthouse guides with light, we can remove much of the fear of new journeys and improve those which people are already familiar with.
Cities Unlocked project is still in testing phase and only after demonstrating extensively with visually impaired people can we expect to see a full-proof product come to the forte.