Microsoft developing bone-conduction headset that guides the blind
While the act of walking down the street might be second
nature to most of us, it can be a much more difficult
experience for those who are blind or visually impaired. To
combat the issue, Microsoft has developed a headset that
uses bone-conducting audio, creating a 3D soundscape to
safely guide users to their destinations.
Microsoft developed the device, currently in the prototype
stage, with the help of the Guide Dogs charity (and it was
adapted from an existing Aftershokz headset for cyclists).
Rather than using conventional audio, sound is conducted
through the jawbone directly into the inner ear, meaning
wearers can still hear what’s going on around them.
The headset connects to Windows Phone handsets, and uses
a combination of GPS and annotated maps alongside a
network of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi beacons placed along the
route. After setting the route, the wearer will hear a
continuous clicking noise designed to sound like it’s coming
from a meter or two ahead, guiding him or her along the
Different audio cues will warn the user if she’s approaching
obstacles such as curbs or parked cars, and simple
instructions such as “turn left” will direct them on their
route. The experience is designed to replace sticks or canes,
providing a less stressful means for visually impaired people
to safely navigate outside.
While the technology has potential, the need to have a
comprehensive network of beacons in place for it to fully
function means it’s unlikely to become widely available any
time soon. However, Microsoft believes it could have a big
impact on the lives of not only the visually impaired, but the
rest of the population as well. The company cites examples
like helping tourists to get about in foreign cities and
navigate public transport.
It’s also not the first time we’ve seen the idea crop up. The
Royal Society for Blind People-developed wayfindr headset
made similar use of beacons and verbal directions to help
blind or visually impaired people navigate London’s subway
Researchers from the Center for Research and Advanced
Studies in Mexico also worked on glasses that use GPS,
ultrasound, stereoscopic vision and artificial intelligence to
aid navigation. And yet another headset, known as OrCam,
also makes use of bone-conduction, allowing the visually
impaired to identify and get information about objects by
simply pointing at them.
You can check out the video below for a closer look at
Microsoft’s new headset.