Microsoft announces major update on smart headsets for the blind

Microsoft provided an update on software to help the blind get around town independently.

The collaboration between Microsoft and the charity Guide Dogs, called “Cities Unlocked”, aims to explore the potential technology has to get people with sight loss to get out and about, independently and confidently, across towns and cities in the UK.

According to research by Guide Dogs, there are around 180,000 blind or partially sighted people who rarely leave home alone in the UK.

The tech giant is working on software that could significantly help the blind navigate outside their home.

The concept Cities Unlocked created uses an app, currently on a Windows Phone, which supplies a personalised 3D-SoundScape to the wearer via a hands-free wearable headset using bone-conducting headphones.

The combination of the headset and app provides users with three dimensional audio to augment reality.


According to Cities Unlocked, one participant commented: “I really liked how… it was describing the layout of the train and it was telling you where the toilets were and the buffet car and the baggage rack, it told you a lot about the context… you knew that it was describing the directions in the context of where you were going.”

Trialist Gerald James (picture above) said: “It does paint a picture of the town. It told me all the different shops on each side of the road. But it also told me the names of the streets and also the compass direction. I just think it gives you greater freedom really. And gives you more independence.”

Gerald trialling the technology:

Microsoft said that it updated its assistive technology based on two experience scenarios, “Orientate” and “Look Ahead”.

The Phase 2 Update includes:

  • A “Find the Way” mode – allowing users to stop at any point and check that they heading in the right direction using directional audio.
  • An integrated application called ‘CityScribe’ which enables people to tag obstacles in their city which most mapping services don’t pick up.
  • A wearable device worn around the neck, a voice interaction mode, and connectivity of the headset to your phone via Bluetooth.
  • Enhanced 3D Audio experience to paint an even richer picture of the world.