Microsoft headset to help blind people navigate new areas

Microsoft, Guide Dogs and the Future Cities Catapult have developed an innovative headset that can work with Windows Phone to help visually impaired people navigate new spaces.

Specifically designed with complex urban areas in mind, the device uses location data to describe routes to users using information transmitted audibly, says a blog post on the Guide Dogs website. The sound is conducted via the jawbone, and doesn't interfere with natural noise from the wearer's environment.

Amos Miller, director of enterprise strategy for Microsoft Asia, who has suffered some sight loss, said: "We have built a means to help people create a mental map in real time. By painting a picture of the world through sound, similarly to how a lighthouse guides with light, we can remove much of the fear of new journeys and improve those which people are already familiar with."

The device has so far been tested on the route between Reading and London, a journey which involved walking, bus travel, train travel and shopping. Of the participants, 62 per cent said they felt safer, more resilient and more confident.

It is hoped the project will bring other organisations and local authorities in the UK on board for the future, allowing more people access to the resulting device.

Peter Madden, CEO of Future Cities Catapult, said: "The UK can be a world leader in using technology and data to make cities better. This will not only improve quality of life for those of us that live in cities better.

"This collaboration shows just what we can do if we get the right mix of people together, really work to understand people's needs, and then harness the very latest technology to find answers."

The device could help the visually impaired regain independence, as well as get some of the 67 per cent of people living with sight loss who are unemployed back to work.

Jenny Cook, head of strategy and research at Guide Dogs, said: "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.

"Currently, visiting a new city is often daunting, even for people with enough confidence to tackle the challenge independently. For others, who rarely leave home alone, the thought of an unfamiliar journey leaves them stressed and anxious and visiting a new area is an impossible dream."

Caroline Preece

Caroline has been writing about technology for more than a decade, switching between consumer smart home news and reviews and in-depth B2B industry coverage. In addition to her work for IT Pro and Cloud Pro, she has contributed to a number of titles including Expert Reviews, TechRadar, The Week and many more. She is currently the smart home editor across Future Publishing's homes titles.

You can get in touch with Caroline via email at