DigitalProductivity The Daily Telegraph

Microsoft developing ‘smart headband for the blind’

Author

Sophie Curtis

July 15, 2014

Microsoft’s first foray into wearables could be a headband that helps blind people navigate their surroundings

Microsoft is reportedly working on a new wearable device – a headband that could help blind people navigate their surroundings using sound alone.

The so-called ‘Alice band’ works by bouncing information from sensors mounted on street furniture to a receiver in the wearer’s headband, according to a report in the Sunday Times.

This information is then relayed to the wearer in the form of audio signals, via an earpiece.

The device is currently being tested in Reading, where it is helping blind people to navigate staircases, escalators and ticket barriers at one of Britain’s busiest commuter stations, and use services at banks and shops.

The Alice band is part of a project Microsoft has been working on with the with the Guide Dogs for the Blind, as part of the government-backed Future Cities Catapult’s ‘Cities Unlocked’ project.

The aim of the project is to develop a detailed understanding of the challenges faced by blind and partially sighted people as they travel in and around cities. A concept video released in 2012 outlined some of features of the device:

More information on the Alice band is expected to be revealed in the next few months.

The news comes after researchers at Oxford University unveiled a pair of smart glasses that can help people with limited vision to navigate and avoid walking into obstacles.

The smart glasses, which consist of a video camera mounted on the frame of the glasses and a computer processing unit that is small enough to fit in a pocket, are designed to boost people’s awareness of what is around them.

Images of nearby people and obstacles – such as kerbs, tables and chairs – are processed by specially-designed software, and projected onto transparent electronic displays, where the glasses’ lenses would normally be.

Meanwhile, Google has filed a US patent for embedding microscopic cameras into contact lenses, which could be programmed to detect light, colour, specific objects, faces and motion without obstructing the vision of the wearer.

The device could be potentially life-changing for blind users, as the camera and analysis components could process image data to determine the wearer is approaching a busy road, for example.

The lens could then issue a command to a remote device, such as a smartphone, to omit a voice-generated warning about the impending road.

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