'3D sound' phone system offers sensorial guidance to visually impaired people

A ‘3D sound’ system has been developed that is capable of providing sensorial guidance to the visually impaired through their smartphone.

Developed by Geko NAVSAT, the application is designed to be installed in a mobile phone and uses satellite navigation and augmented acoustic reality to indicate to the user the correct, obstacle-free path.

The system uses three-dimensional acoustic stimuli, described as ‘cracking sounds’ by the developers, to guide the user along unfamiliar routes.

"We use the richness of 3D perception that sound has and we combine it with satellite navigation technology so that users can orient themselves in a specific direction," said Rafael Olmedo, head of Geko NAVSAT.

Olmedo also proposed using bone conduction earphones to allow the user to continue to hear sounds from the surrounding area as well as the cracking sounds.

"This is important because visually impaired people need to continue hearing environmental sounds and these bone conduction earphones allow them to hear a layer of augmented acoustic reality that is superimposed on the environmental sounds," he said.

The company has already developed a mobile application called Acoustic Trail that uses 3D acoustic stimuli to guide people who practice mountain sports.

"Our main challenge is to make it so that the system's GPS guidance is precise to within one metre, so that the user can feel completely confident that the system is leading them down the right path," adds Olmedo.

While Geko’s system is designed to allow the blind to find their way outdoors, the GPS signal is generally poor in indoor locations, making it less reliable in these environments.

However, Google’s Project Tango, which creates a 3D model of the area surrounding a smartphone, could help fill this gap.

Last year, researchers demonstrated a system designed for visually impaired people based on Tango that could help them navigate unfamiliar interiors.

Lenovo also unveiled the first Project Tango smartphone last month that contained the sensors needed to make the system work in real time.

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