Team members help bring new app to life

A birds eye view image of a person holding a phone with headphones plugged in.Microsoft Soundscape launched a new navigation app, called Soundscape. A cutting-edge application that empowers people living with vision impairment and blindness the ability to explore the world around them through 3D sound.

We’re so proud that two of our Accessible Information team members, Vithya Vijayakumare and David Vosnacos played an important role in contributing to the apps development. Over the course of 6 months, both Vithya and David Beta tested the app for launch in Australia.

The Soundscape app allows users to create a mental map of the world around them using audio beacons. As they pass a location that has a beacon, it will alert users through stereo headphones connected to the app. It means that users can navigate in their surroundings past landmarks, have road names read out to them, and identify upcoming intersections.

The 3D aspect means that the sound can be delivered in a 360 degree radius, rather than the simple left and right audio like traditional headphones. This creates a truly immersive experience.

Vithya and David, came to be involved in the project, after their long-held interests in the 3D audio and augmented/virtual reality was noticed by Microsoft. “Vithya and I were both approached by David Masters, Microsoft’s Australian Corporate Affairs Director during the Perth Web Accessibility Camp in early 2018. He noticed our passion for this area, and felt we could make a great contribution to the app Beta testing.” David said.

“I was really interested in this different approach to assisted navigation, and the opportunity to help develop an app that would further empower Australians living with a vision impairment.” He said. “Not having a vision impairment myself, the app gave me a different perspective on my everyday surrounds including so many landmarks I didn’t know existed very close to my daily commute!”

David and Vithya conducted most of their testing on their route to and from work. They both felt the app had given them an opportunity to focus into their surroundings in a new way. “It felt like you had your own personal guide, prompting you on what is around you!” Vithya remarked.

“I was particularly excited to be involved in this Beta testing because of my interest in the technology behind the app which uses 3D synthesised binaural technology to generate 3D sound.” She said.

“This app not only helps individuals with vision impairment or blindness. It can be used by the general public to learn their surrounding using the 3D audio mapping cues, especially tourist visiting Australia for the first time!” – Vithya Vijayakumare

Since it has launched, VisAbility’s Assistive Technology specialist and Occupational Therapist Sinead Quinn who lives with vision impairment, has used the app and was impressed by its functionality.

“This is such a cool app! From the minute I put on my headphones and heard the crisp, surround sound voice I couldn’t believe the clarity and intelligence of the speaker. Soundscape was able to tell me what points of interest were around in 3D sound so I could hear that a school was on my right and a park was on my left.” Sinead said.

“I was able to create a marker for the restaurant I was going to and I received consistent updates of how far away I was from the marker as I walked. Every time I approached an intersection it told me what streets were intersecting and what direction they are heading. I am very impressed with this app and am excited to see what others think!”

The app is a welcome addition to the range of assistive technology available for people living with vision impairment and blindness in Australia. Soundscape has previously been released in the United States, Canada, India, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore, and the community is excited for the benefits it offers.

“Being able to contribute to a living, breathing app through its evolving stages was a great experience and gave me a great insight into the development of such apps in response to feedback from so many other Beta testers.” Said David.

“Whilst we are both unlikely to ever meet those other Beta testers we are both proud to know and acknowledge that we were part of Soundscapes development by the Australian public and not one specific organisation.”

We are so proud of our team for their expert knowledge, and passion for social-impact driven technology. Thank you David and Vithya!

If you would like to download the Soundscape app (currently only available on Apple IOS) or read more about it, please visit the Microsoft website: Microsoft Soundscape (link opens in new window). If you’d like to contact us for more information regarding our Accessible Information Services.