Microsoft has released a free iPhone program, Soundscape, that aims to help blind people and users with restricted vision over a bearing of their environment while outside, by supplying 3D audio hints where the locations are in relation to the user’s location. As the user walks through an environment, Soundscape will offer audio cues the user can listen with headphones, with the 3D audio technology giving the impact of the cue being broadcast to the user from where it’s in the real world. The position of the cue will change as the user moves around, or so the user can keep track of where their destination is in relation to their existing position on their journey.

The program will automatically call key points of interest to the user, including routes and intersections that might have to be navigated, with users able to adjust or turn this feature off if necessary. An audio beacon can be placed in a landmark emphasizing that location. There are also three buttons available to use in the bottom of the app screen, providing more details about the user’s position. My Location describes where the user is standing and states that direction they’re facing, whilst Ahead of Me will advise of points of interest in front of the user, such as shops along a road.

The next, Around Me. Describes the nearby points of interest in each one of the four cardinal directions that Microsoft suggests can help with orientation after getting off a bus or in a train station. The program requires an Apple iPhone plus a pair of headphones or earphones appropriate for sporting outdoors, with Microsoft advising Apple’s AirPods and on ear open earphones like convenient accessories to utilize. It may also run in the background while another program is being used, including audio based programs like Podcasts. Obstacle avoidance isn’t the issue, we’ve got a dog, a cane, and our blindness abilities for this, advises Erin Lauridsen, the accessibility Technology Director in LightHouse for the Blind, a nonprofit which has worked with Microsoft on the program over its 4 year development.

A gap is knowing where things are and having the ability to choose what is of interest. Noting technology’s role in assisting users gain confidence and improve their self reliance, Lauridsen advises Soundscape addresses a crucial need – a tool for effectively exploring your environment. That’s a game changer. The Microsoft Soundscape program is available as a free download from the App Store, weighing in at 447.1 megabytes of storage. The program is suitable with the iPhone 5s, iPad Air Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad miniature 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad Guru Wi-Fi + Cellular and after mobile equipped apparatus, running iOS 10.0 or newer versions.