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Microsoft yesterday announced a new research project called Soundscape that empowers blind people to explore the world around them through a 3D audio experience. Soundscape is a free iOS app that allows people to set audio beacons at familiar destinations and landmarks, and then use 3D audio cues to improve their ambient awareness as they make their way to the destination.
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.
- As you walk, Soundscape will automatically call out the key points of interest, roads and intersections that you pass. These can be adjusted and turned on and off.
- An audio beacon can be placed on a point of interest, and you will hear it as you move around. You can place an audio beacon on a point of interest that you would like to track such as your destination, a point to return to or a landmark you are familiar with.
- “My location” describes your current location and the direction you are facing
- “Around me” describes nearby points of interest in each of the four cardinal directions, helping with orientation. Try this out when getting off a bus or leaving a train station.
- “Ahead of me” describes points of interest in front of you, for example when walking down the street.
Microsoft tested this app with actual blind people and it proved that Soundscape can help reduce levels of stress and anxiety, giving people with sight loss more confidence when they’re out in the public to navigate to other places.