Microsoft has released an sound-based free iOS app, Soundscape, to enable people with blindness or low-vision. The app creates 3D sound to build richer awareness of their surroundings and provides a new way to relate to the environment making people empowered and more confident while travelling locally and in new places.

The free software has been released on iOS for iPhone users, having been in testing for more than two years in the UK as well as in the US.

The app can also run on the background and can be used with other apps such as navigation apps too to provide additional information about the user’s surroundings. The app uses 3D audio cues with synthesised binaural audio, creating the effect of 3D sound about the surrounding.

The app will automatically call out key points of interest to the user, including roads and intersections that may need to be navigated, with users able to adjust or turn this feature off if required. An audio beacon can be placed at a landmark, specifically highlighting that location.

Other features on the app includes information buttons that help build a picture of where you are and what’s around you. An information buttons on the app called “Around Me” will call-out four point of interest in a 360 degree sweep around the user, providing an mental image of what’s around the user. The “Ahead of Me” button on the app tells about five items in front the user.

The app uses OpenStreetMap mapping platform to provide the information about the places around.

Setting a beacon and Wayfinding are few of the other features that help a visually challenged person in reaching to a destination with step-by-step instructions.

The app requires an iPhone and a pair of headphones or earphones suitable for wearing outdoors, with Microsoft advising Apple’s AirPods and on-ear open headphones as suitable accessories to use. It can also run in the background while another app is being used, including audio-based apps such as Podcasts.

Microsoft in a blog post mentioned that “Soundscape can help reduce levels of stress and anxiety, giving people with sight loss more confidence when they’re out and about in an urban environment.”

Noting technology’s role in helping users gain confidence and improve their self reliance, Lauridsen advises Soundscape “addresses a crucial need – a tool for efficiently exploring your surroundings. That is a game-changer.”

The Microsoft Soundscape app is available on iOS platform as a free download in the App Store, weighing in at 447.1 megabytes of storage. The app is compatible with the iPhone 5s, iPad Air Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad mini 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad Pro Wi-Fi + Cellular and later cellular-equipped devices, running iOS 10.0 or newer versions.

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