Wearables

Microsoft developing bone-conduction headset that guides the blind

Microsoft developing bone-cond...
The Microsoft-developed technology aims to provide those with blindness with a greater degree of independence
The Microsoft-developed technology aims to provide those with blindness with a greater degree of independence
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The Microsoft-developed technology aims to provide those with blindness with a greater degree of independence
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The Microsoft-developed technology aims to provide those with blindness with a greater degree of independence
The headset requires a network of beacons to function
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The headset requires a network of beacons to function
The headset uses bone-conduction to transmit audio directly to the user's inner ear
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The headset uses bone-conduction to transmit audio directly to the user's inner ear
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While the act of walking down the street might be second nature to most of us, it can be a much more difficult experience for those who are blind or visually impaired. To combat the issue, Microsoft has developed a headset that uses bone-conducting audio, creating a 3D soundscape to safely guide users to their destinations.

Microsoft developed the device, currently in the prototype stage, with the help of the Guide Dogs charity (and it was adapted from an existing Aftershokz headset for cyclists). Rather than using conventional audio, sound is conducted through the jawbone directly into the inner ear, meaning wearers can still hear what’s going on around them.

The headset requires a network of beacons to function
The headset requires a network of beacons to function

The headset connects to Windows Phone handsets, and uses a combination of GPS and annotated maps alongside a network of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi beacons placed along the route. After setting the route, the wearer will hear a continuous clicking noise designed to sound like it’s coming from a meter or two ahead, guiding him or her along the correct route.

Different audio cues will warn the user if she's approaching obstacles such as curbs or parked cars, and simple instructions such as “turn left” will direct them on their route. The experience is designed to replace sticks or canes, providing a less stressful means for visually impaired people to safely navigate outside.

While the technology has potential, the need to have a comprehensive network of beacons in place for it to fully function means it's unlikely to become widely available any time soon. However, Microsoft believes it could have a big impact on the lives of not only the visually impaired, but the rest of the population as well. The company cites examples like helping tourists to get about in foreign cities and navigate public transport.

The headset uses bone-conduction to transmit audio directly to the user's inner ear
The headset uses bone-conduction to transmit audio directly to the user's inner ear

It’s also not the first time we’ve seen the idea crop up. The Royal Society for Blind People-developed wayfindr headset made similar use of beacons and verbal directions to help blind or visually impaired people navigate London’s subway system.

Researchers from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Mexico also worked on glasses that use GPS, ultrasound, stereoscopic vision and artificial intelligence to aid navigation. And yet another headset, known as OrCam, also makes use of bone-conduction, allowing the visually impaired to identify and get information about objects by simply pointing at them.

You can check out the video below for a closer look at Microsoft’s new headset.

Source: Microsoft

Independence Day

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6 comments
Bob Flint
Lay out the route with beacons... who is responsible for that ?
Any system needs to be fully independent of a trail of electronic breadcrumbs. Surely triangulation in combination with a better more accurate GPS, and lidar/radar would be more effective than placing random beacons that would need servicing if they aren't stolen first.
Google and autonomous cars already are on the right track.
Chizzy
sounds like a case of the blind leading the blind
Mike Malsed
It's a prototype system. . . prototypes have a habit of moving past prototype status OR being added to other technologies. . . so the non-feasible parts will go away or be replaced with something else. . .
Overall, it's a great idea and a great advance.
Robert Charette
In other hilarious MS news, this "prototype" was made prior to 2006 by an audio engineer. At the time he was shut down pretty hard over this design in favor of reprocessing 3rd party parts into a barely working, cheaper wired models. This angle is a very poor idea being developed by an MS org that has traditionally ruined all audio ventures they have been on. Scary stuff. Hell, at least their target audience is blind.
Mike Malsed
wow - such amazing negativity. Let me ask you - what tech have you created (or adapted) lately?
Mel Tisdale
This device was featured on a BBC radio programme recently and the person experimenting with it was over the moon on what it was capable of.
Regarding the beacons and their servicing, they are going to be needed for autonomous vehicles anyway. They can have their signal strength beefed up at the first hint of a jamming signal and thus counter the possible disruption it might otherwise cause, GPS satellites cannot do the same and that is the Archilles' heel of the whole GPS system.