"The application will also provide information on shops, points of interest and additional journey details to help the user navigate."
Microsoft has developed the prototype wearable device, with the help of the charity Guide Dogs UK and urban design firm Future Cities Catapult to launch a headset to help people who are blind or have low vision navigate around a city.
When the headset is paired with a Windows Phone, the application uses GPS and cloud based location alongside a network of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals placed along the route.
This project is the result of a unique partnership between Microsoft, the charity Guide Dogs, and a number of other partners including Network Rail, Reading Buses, the urban planning agency Future Cities Catapult, and the Reading Borough Council.
After setting the route, the user 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.
The application will also provide information on shops, points of interest and additional journey details to help the user navigate.
"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," explained Jenny Cook, head of strategy and research at Guide Dogs.Microsoft designers worked incredibly closely with Guide Dogs, its employees, mobility experts and users like Bottom and Brewell, to genuinely understand the challenges of traveling to and fro with vision loss. The engineers and designers from Microsoft and mobility experts and users from Guide Dogs spent countless hours in the field together. In rain and wind, they patiently tried various half-baked ideas, experimented with different approaches to hardware and software, and gave essential feedback to help shape the technology every step of the way.
"In the U.K., there are about 180,000 people who rarely if ever get out and about. That's a massive social issue in its own right," said Richard Leaman, CEO of Guide Dogs. "That was really the heart of our new strategy. Supporting blind people with 5,000 guide dogs is really not scratching the surface. Introducing new services, like the use of technology, is a vital ingredient to change. If our major cities in the U.K. had sensor-enriched zones where this capability worked, I think it would be an incredible achievement. Beyond that, I expect this to go global, as I'm sure major cities around the world will want the same. It's like an awakening."
Accessibility, as part of overall usability, is a fundamental consideration for Microsoft during product design, development, evaluation, and release. Microsoft endeavors to integrate accessibility into planning, design, research, development, testing, and documentation. Microsoft also collaborates with a wide range of organizations to raise awareness of the importance of accessibility in meeting the technology needs of people with disabilities.
The video clip below shows how new technology from Microsoft, charity Guide Dogs UK and urban design firm Future Cities Catapult can help people with sight loss navigate cities like never before. Narrated by Jen Taylor, the voice of Cortana.
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