Microsoft and Vision Australia have launched Soundscape, an app to help those who are blind or with low vision navigate their community through a 3D audio experience.

This partnership is a part of Microsoft’s five year $25 million accessibility and AI program called AI For Accessibility.

The product development group in Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research (AI&R) team have been working directly with Vision Australia’s Orientation and Mobility team for the last six months to have them test and integrate the use of Soundscape in their work with clients.

Steven Worrall, managing director at Microsoft said, “We’ve partnered with Vision Australia as they understand the challenges that people who are blind or have low vision face every day. We know that Vision Australia clients have seen huge benefits from the use of other Microsoft technologies and have contributed to making our tools more accessible.”

The app works by using 3D audio and location awareness to provide users with information about their surroundings, building a mental map of what is around them.

Those who are blind or have low vision wear a headset and access the app through their smartphone.

The sounds come from the direction of where the point of interest is allowing users to map the surrounding environment in their minds.

Users set an audio beacon on a chosen destination or familiar landmark which helps them keep track of that location.

The app also notifies a user of roads and intersections as they walk past.

Microsoft says Soundscape helps users build an appreciation of the space as they move through it, empowering them to make their own navigational choices while at the same time enhancing their overall experience.

David Woodbridge, access technology advisor, Vision Australia said, “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.”

The intention of Soundscape is not to replace aids such as a dog guide or cane, but to enable a user to more naturally and intuitively connect with their environment without disrupting their ability to attend to other tasks, activities, or interactions with other people.

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