I love being out and about, but being Visually Impaired I can sometimes get a little bit lost and disorientated. That’s why when I had heard that Microsoft had released Soundscape to help Visually Impaired people navigate their surroundings, I obviously had to give it a go. Well i’ve been using it for a little while now, and I thought that I would tell you what I thought of it.
Here’s what Microsoft say about Soundscape.
When you’re ready, just go for a walk on a well known route and listen to the callouts to get a sense of how Soundscape works and how you may want to use it. Have fun!
Microsoft Soundscape uses 3D audio technology to enhance your awareness of what is around you, and thereby helping you to get around and explore your surroundings. Soundscape will place audio cues and labels in 3D space so that they sound like they are coming from the direction of the points of interest, parks, roads and other features in your surroundings. You will need a pair of stereo headphones that you feel comfortable waring outdoors. For example, bone conduction headphones, Apple AirPods and in-ear open headphones have proven to work well . Soundscape is designed to live in the background and provide you with effortless ambient awareness. Therefore, feel free to use it in conjunction with other apps such as podcasts, audio books, email and even GPS navigation.
- As you walk, Soundscape will automatically call out the key points of interest, like roads and intersections that you pass. These can be adjusted and turned on and off.
- An audio beacon can be placed on a point of interest, and you will hear it as you move around. You can place an audio beacon on a point of interest that you would like to track, such as your destination, a point to return to or a landmark you are familiar with.
- My location describes your current location and the direction you are facing.
- Around me describes nearby points of interest in each of the four cardinal directions, helping with orientation. Try this out when getting off a Bus or leaving a Train station.
- Ahead of me describes points of interest in front of you, for example when walking down the street.
We hope that you enjoy the experience. We believe that this kind of technology offers a new way to relate to the environment around you and we can’t wait to hear what you make of it.
It’s set up.
I really liked how easy this was to set up, as once I had downloaded it to my iPhone, and had given it permission to use my location and device motion, it showed me a little introduction video telling me a little bit about how the app works, including that it uses 3D sound to tell me what’s around me, like if something is on my right it will give me an audio signal emanating from that location.
It then showed me a few information screens telling me a little bit about it’s different features, including that I could place an audio beacon on my destination so that it can keep me informed of it’s location and my surroundings along the way, that when i’m walking that it will help me to stay aware of what is around me by calling out roads, intersections and landmarks as I approach them, and that if i’m unsure of where I an that I can hold my phone flat to explore the roads, intersections and landmarks that are ahead of me. It then said that I had to accept Microsoft’s terms & conditions, and then it was all set up.
I also really liked that it worked well with VoiceOver, as it didn’t stall or throw me out of the app whilst I was setting it up.
What it did when I used it.
I absolutely loved what this did when I used it, as once I had set it up, it loaded the main options screen, which was really clear and clutter free, and gave me seven different buttons. A menu button where I could set a reference point, manage call outs, get help, and change the settings, a set a beacon button where I could set my destination, a button telling me whether or not I had set a beacon, a location button which told me my current location, an around me button which told me what was around me like fields and parks, and an ahead of me button which told me what was in front of me.
I also really liked that once I had set a beacon to my nearest Bus Stop, that it gave me a little clicking noise that told me whether I was walking in the right direction or not, and that it also called out all of the different roads and places that I walked past. I did notice that I didn’t really have that many places to choose from when I was setting a beacon though, as I could only choose between schools, fields, and Bus Stops, but I think that this will change as the app grows.
I also really liked that whenever it called out the name of a road, that it told me the direction that I was walking in, the name of the road that I was on, and any intersections that I had passed.
I also really liked how responsive it was, as I was kind of expecting it to take a couple of minutes to re-calibrate whenever I had changed my direction, but it only took a second or so to recognise that I had done so and change any call outs that it needed to.
I also really liked that it used 3D audio, which meant that it told me where something was by where ever the audio was coming from. So for instance, if a field was 250ft north-west away, the call out would only be heard from the right side of my right earphone.
Another thing that I really liked was it’s voice, as I was kind of expecting it to sound extremely lifeless and robotic, but it actually sounded really good, and strangely had a slight British accent to it.
My overall thoughts.
Overall I would have to rate Microsoft Soundscape, an eight point five out of ten. I absolutely loved how easy it was to set up, and what it did when I used it, including that I could set a beacon depending on where I was going, that it told me my location and what roads, intersections and landmarks I had passed, that it told me what was around me, it’s responsiveness, and it’s voice, but I would have loved there to have been more places to choose from when I was setting a beacon, like local shops, banks or even bars and restaurants.
Have you checked out Microsoft Soundscape yet? What did you think of it? What’s your favourite navigational app? Please let me know down below.