Microsoft launches 3D audio app for blind people in Australia

Software giant’s artificial intelligence research team has been collaborating with Vision Australia to test.
By Lynne Minion
09:57 AM
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blind woman using Microsoft app Soundscape on city street with her guide dog

A screen snap of the Soundscape app in-use. Credit: Microsoft Soundscape

Microsoft and Vision Australia unveiled a new 3D audio app designed to give blind and vision impaired people greater independence to explore the world around them.

Dubbed Soundscape, the software enables users to 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 give 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,” Woodbridge added. “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.

This article originally appeared on Healthcare IT News Australia.