Microsoft has launched its Soundscape app for iOS. It is aimed to help visually impaired people navigate through cities and find shops and landmarks. It is available on iOS currently and nothing is known about an Android launch.
Soundscape works by allowing users to set beacons for different landmarks, which will play sound effects when you are near them. This way, visually impaired people will be able to navigate even if they are in a city they've never visited. Currently, the app has three modes – 'Locate', which tells your location, 'Around Me' to call out up to four landmarks surrounding you, and 'Ahead of Me', which will play voice cues for five landmarks in the distance. To do the navigation process, Soundscape uses both the compass and GPS navigation on the iPhone, in combination with maps data from OpenStreetMap.
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”, said Erin Lauridsen, Assistant Technology Director of LightHouse for the Blind association.Worth mentioning is the app was not created to replace guide dogs and canes, but rather to add to that by providing another way of navigating. "
Soundscape's development began way back in 2014. It was first supposed to run on the already forgotten Windows Mobile, utilizing a set of bone-conduction (conducting the voice directly to the ear through the skull) headphones.
This is not the first iOS app made to help visually impaired people. A couple of years ago "Be My Eyes" launched, in which you could list yourself either as a blind person or a volunteer. Then, if you were a volunteer, you'd get notifications to help blind people by reading or describing to them whatever was needed.