Microsoft’s new Soundscape iOS app is designed to help the visually impaired navigate cities


Microsoft has a new app out today called Soundscape that uses 3D audio technology to help map out landmarks and points of interest through audio cues.

Soundscape empowers more people to explore the world around them through a 3D audio experience. The app enriches your perception of surroundings as you walk, helping you get where you want to go. Rushing between classes, going for coffee with a friend or touring a new city with the family are all common experiences that could be more rewarding and cause less anxiety for nearly 300 million people with sight loss worldwide.

Users can set audio beacons at specific destinations and places, and the app will provide 3D audio cues (which can be perceived directionally) to help improve their “ambient awareness” as they travel there. Users will then be able to incorporate that information from the Soundscape as they build a mental image of what’s around them.

The Soundscape app can also call out points of interest, roads, and intersections that you pass, along with more specific settings for describing a user’s current location and direction, or what’s coming up ahead of them. For example, it can describe different shops and street names as you walk by, something that other navigation techniques used by people with visual impairments can’t always help with.

If a user isn’t sure where they are or which way to travel, they can hold the phone flat in their hand with the top edge facing the direction they want to go and then use the buttons at the bottom of the screen to locate nearby landmarks and navigate.

The app is designed to be used in tandem with more traditional means of navigation, not replace them. As Erin Lauridsen, the access technology director at LightHouse for the Blind explains, “Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that. The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.”

Microsoft Soundscape can be downloaded here.