The blind and vision impaired will gain greater independence and be able to explore the world around them with a new 3D audio app launched in Australia by Microsoft and Vision Australia.
With Soundscape, users can set audio beacons at destinations and landmarks, and through a stereo headset the 3D audio is perceived as coming from the point of interest as they walk, allowing them to build a mental image of what’s around from the acoustic environment. The app also calls out roads, intersections and landmarks, and was designed to be used in addition to mobility aids such as guide dogs and canes.
For David Woodbridge, Access Technology Advisor at Vision Australia, the app helps him to create a mental map of his surroundings.
“Soundscape gives me confidence in an outside environment by helping me understand what’s around me – whether it’s a restaurant, café, railway station, walking [or] bike track, park, business or even a street name. It allows me to build a mental map of my neighbourhood,” Woodbridge said.
The app provides more sensory information than traditional navigation maps that simply provide directions.
“Rather than dictate what I should do, it allows me to make my own decisions based on the information it is providing, meaning I am always in control. For me, it really is about feeling stress free when I’m out and about. The app is easy to use and I have my own personal markers set for different locations. My local coffee shop is always a priority and the ‘coffee shop’ marker on Soundscape gets a lot of use.”
Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research team has been collaborating with Vision Australia for the last six months to test and integrate use of the app into the not-for-profit’s services for people with blindness and low vision.
More than one billion people live with disabilities worldwide but only one in 10 have access to assistive technologies and products. In Australia, 384,000 are blind or have low vision, with the number predicted to grow to 564,000 by 2030.
“I believe AI is a game changer for people with disabilities around the world, and by making the technology more widely available, we can have a bigger impact on this community,” Executive Vice President and President of Microsoft Global Sales, Marketing and Operations at Microsoft, Jean-Philippe Courtois, said.
“It’s incredible to see how an application like Soundscape enables those who have visual impairments to feel more included and connected to the world around them.”
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