Microsoft headset helps blind people navigate cities using bone conduction

Microsoft and the charity, Guide Dogs, have developed a headset that could help some of the two million visually impaired people in the UK navigate cities more easily and safely, even if they’ve never been there before.

The device, which has been piloted in Reading, uses a network of special beacons to provide navigation information to the wearer’s Windows Phone, which relays this data to the headset.

Bone conducting headphones

The headset then provides the user with audio cues about their surroundings, including clicks to let them know if they are going in the right direction, pings if they are too close to the curb and speech for more detailed information, such as when a bus they need to take is approaching.

What’s unusual about the headset, however, is how it transmits this information to the wearer: instead of sitting in their ears like headphones, it hooks over them and sends transmits the sounds by sending vibrations through their jaw bone. These vibrations are conducted through the bone to the inner ear, where it’s interpreted as sound.

This is highly important for people with visual impairments, Jenny Cook, head of strategy and research at Guide Dogs, told PC Pro, because it means they are still able to hear their surroundings as normal.

“The one thing we really wanted to ensure is that the wearer still can use all of the remaining senses that they have and that’s not overridden by the power of the technology,” Cook said.

The device isn’t intended to replace existing aids like guide dogs, white canes or sighted guides, however.

“This is really about [providing] another level of enrichment in enabling people to leave home,” Cook concluded.

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