Microsoft's navigation tech for the blind is now an app

Soundscape helps visually-impaired people better explore the world around them.

Microsoft has been working on its 3D soundscape technology for years. In 2014 it developed a bone-conducting headset to help visually impaired people navigate around cities using audio cues, and now that technology is available in app form, allowing users to pinpoint their location and identify areas of interest using only their phones and a stereo headset.

The app, Soundscape, calls out roads and landmarks as they're passed, and lets users set audio beacons at familiar destinations. If at any time you're unsure of where you are, or which direction to head in, you can simply hold the phone flat in your hand and use the buttons on the bottom of the screen to locate nearby roads and familiar destinations.

It's not designed to simply get users from A to B safely, but to help visually-impaired people explore the world around them and enrich their perception of their surroundings as they move through cities. As Erin Lauridsen, access technology director at LightHouse for the Blind, says, "Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that. The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what's of interest." The app is available for free on iOS and iPhone in the US and UK now.