July 21, 2014

Microsoft Engineering Smart Headband For The Blind

Jeffrey Steven, Freelance Writer

In 2012, there were approximately 285 million visually-impaired people globally, and this number continues to rise every year. In an effort to help the blind, Microsoft has been working on an Alice band-like device that aims to assist those who are visually impaired “see” the environment around them.

Piloted by a group of eight sight-impaired people at the University of Reading in Berkshire, England, the device has been designed to relay information about objects of interest through an earpiece, giving the wearer a “visual” idea of their environment.

This smart Alice band has been compared to Google Glass on a number of levels, but Microsoft has stated that they do not see their device as a competitor and that it targets a completely different demographic. The Microsoft smart headband will also cater to those that are not visually impaired, but the company is focusing on creating a device that can assist those who are at a disadvantage versus those who are sighted.

Microsoft has been working on this initiative in an effort to assist those with sight loss to engage in the community and to be able to enjoy games at a casino online and other entertainment-based activities. The device will also help the visually impaired navigate their surroundings and assist them in crowded places or with taking public transport.

The device relays navigational instructions via an earpiece and the wearer is able to receive real time information regarding public transport systems or facilities. Information is received from sensors mounted on buildings or train carriages and the data is transmitted directly to the wearer of the band, helping them to carry out daily activities that many take for granted.

The idea of the smart Alice band is for blind people to be able to commute and enjoy day-to-day activities on their own and to be as at ease as those who are sighted. Tim Gebbels, a blind actor who has tested early versions of the device, says he hopes that it will help him navigate towns and cities “as easily as anyone else,” and this is certainly Microsoft’s intention.

This device has been developed as part of the Cities Unlocked program, and is a joint initiative between the Guide Dogs charity, Microsoft, and the Future Cities Catapult, a government project that focuses on developing “smart” city technology that will aid less abled persons.