Guide Dogs creates app with Microsoft to help people with sight loss navigate cities

Soundscape uses audio cues to help people create a mental image of what is around them

Guide Dogs has collaborated with the technology giant Microsoft to create a new app designed to make it easier for people with sight loss to move around towns and cities. 

The two organisations said they aimed to put people with sight loss at the heart of the development of the new Soundscape app, enabling them to influence its design and test the product.

The app, which is designed to be used in conjunction with navigation aids such as guide dogs, allows users to set an audio beacon at their destination and then use 3D audio cues to improve their ambient awareness as they head towards it.

Soundscape calls out nearby roads and landmarks as the user walks so they can create a mental image of what is around them from sounds in the environment and those from the Soundscape app. If users are ever unsure of their location, the app can also help them to find their way again.

The project began four years ago when Amos Miller, a Microsoft product strategist and researcher, who had lost his sight because of a genetic eye disease, thought that independent mobility for visually impaired people could be improved through technology.

"When someone can relate to their environment in a natural and intuitive way, it changes their relationship with their world," Miller said on a Microsoft blog page. "It is that relationship that brings about a sense of meaning and connection, which is so important in life."

To find a solution to the problem and develop the app, he brought together Microsoft researchers and representatives from Guide Dogs, whose expertise gave the project real-life experiences.

Tom Wright, chief executive of Guide Dogs, said that for people with sight loss getting around towns could be daunting.

"Choosing where to go and what to do is an impossible dream," he said. "Soundscape will change this for many people.

"We worked with Microsoft to put people with sight loss at the heart of the development of Soundscape. This close collaboration has resulted in an app that makes exploring towns and cities a more enjoyable experience for those with sight loss, enabling people to make spontaneous choices about where they go and what they do."

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