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A Headset To Redefine Independence

A new tech creation to help the blind navigate on their own

Nicole Billitz
A Headset To Redefine Independence © 2019 Microsoft

Microsoft just teamed up with the charity Guide Dogs to create a headset that is designed for the visually impaired to walk around their city or any city, for that matter.

Available to synchronize with a Windows phone, it uses GPS and information beacons to construct a safe route in urban locations, that is constantly updated and monitored. It was most recently tested in the UK, from Reading to London, and the route included shopping and directions, but also quite importantly, bus and train transport.

In the US alone we have 6,670,300 people registered as visually impaired and they are unlikely to go out, due to safety concerns.

In the US alone we have 6,670,300 people registered as visually impaired and they are unlikely to go out, due to safety concerns.Jenny Cook, head of strategy and research at Guide Dogs is quoted in BBC saying, “People living with sight loss face a multitude of challenges every day that can prevent them from getting where they want to be in life”.

BBC correspondent beta tested the headset, complete with blindfold and stick, and went for a walk in London. The headset informed him not only of the track, but also of “parked cars and overhanging trees ahead”, leaving a 3D experience. What is so fantastic about the headset is that it doesn’t only have one route, which means the wearer won’t either! It can navigate virtually anywhere it is possible to go.

The design is apparently similar to one for cyclists that has already long been on the market, but redesigned much in the way of Google Glass. It sits in the front of the ear so that the listener can hear traffic and other sounds. The headset itself gives both verbal and non-verbal descriptions. It “clicks” to inform the user they are on the right track and requests “turn right” when necessary. It also describes points of interest along the way.

In the UK, 8 people with a loss of sight have also tried the headset, and 5 report feeling safer and better adjusted.

The idea, which was originally a collaboration between Future Cities Catapult, Guide Dogs and Microsoft, came from Amos Miller, a Microsoft employee that is visually impaired. It has now become a momentous effort including Network Rail, Reading Buses, the Reading Borough Council and Tesco supermarket. The program is still in it’s pilot stage, but it looks like it will be a huge success.


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