On a typical day, Jennifer Bottom makes her way around London with her guide dog in tow. Sometimes, “I just wander about, ask people and get directions,” she says. “But if you’re not comfortable with that or you don’t have a lot of free time, it can be quite frustrating and scary.”
Enter Cities Unlocked, a project intended to help people with sight loss navigate cities. The brainchild of a blind Microsoft employee, it uses GPS, a 3D audio headset, and Bluetooth beacons, among other technologies. Microsoft and two UK-based non-profits, Guide Dogs and Future Cities Catapult, have been collaborating on Cities Unlocked, and a demonstration project was recently completed.
For the test phase, Bottom took a bus and a train, and went grocery shopping at Tesco. Before departing, she entered her destination into an app and donned a headset, which rested on her jawbone instead of her ears, so as not to block other sounds. “I’m a blind person, I need to keep my ears open,” she says. The headset uses bone-conducting technology, in which vibrations create a “3D soundscape” around the user.