The Scottish Tech Army has launched a ‘soundscape service’ to help visually impaired people navigate the urban environment.
The volunteer tech group, set up as a response to Covid, is issuing the app for iPhone users to provide a ground-breaking audio experience for people with sight conditions.
The organisation harnessing tech from Microsoft Research and released under open-source licence.
The service will provide a replacement for the current service, which will not be available beyond the end of August 2023.
Soundscape is a spatial audio mobile app for the iPhone that helps visually impaired people to navigate their way independently around an urban environment. It augments the information typically provided by navigation apps, providing far greater contextual awareness by transforming ordinary sound into a three-dimensional experience.
For the visually impaired, it’s like having a personal guide, painting a vivid picture of the surroundings through sound alone. Features include the ability to preview routes in advance of a physical visit, save markers and do more than simply navigate to a single destination, allowing the user flexibility in their day – in the same way those without visual impairment take for granted.
The Scottish Tech Army is committing to the continued maintenance and improvement of the app using its extensive network of independent tech volunteers combined with the impactful contributions of its innovative ‘Tech for Good Alliance’ member companies in the form of skilled volunteering by their staff under their existing volunteering programmes.
The first release of Soundscape provides is a ‘faithful reproduction of the original app’, to ensure that those who are already used to using the navigation tool have confidence that the replacement provides all the functionality they have come to rely on.
To further enhance Soundscape, the Scottish Tech Army will work with those in the visual impairment community, including Guide Dogs, visual impairment charity Seescape, and other visual impairment charities in the UK, to continually deliver enhanced functionality and other improvements.
“We are very excited to be launching our Soundscape service, offering a way forward for the tens of thousands of existing users of the previous version of the app worldwide and making it available to many more users in the UK and around the world,” said Alistair Forbes, CEO of the Scottish Tech Army.
“Our engagement with the visual impairment support community has shown how valuable users have found Soundscape and the concern that existed about the loss of the service.
“Building on the substantial initial investment made by Microsoft, we are drawing on the skills and commitment of member companies in the Tech for Good Alliance and our individual volunteers to both sustain and develop this highly valued service.”
Guide Dogs was actively involved in the original research work done by Microsoft and has used Soundscape in its work with a large number of people who are blind or visually impaired.
“Since its public release in spring 2018, Guide Dogs has integrated Soundscape into our service delivery, directly observing how it can support and enhance the independent mobility of individuals with vision impairments,” said Tommy Dean, operations technology development lead at Guide Dogs.
“Collaborating with the Scottish Tech Army, we’re actively advancing this innovative app, elated not only by its sustained future but also by its ongoing evolution. This fusion of innovation and accessibility underscores Guide Dogs commitment to empower users to live the life they choose. Together with other sight loss charities, we’re dedicated to fostering adoption and shaping the app’s future.”
Financial support for the launch and initial operation of the Soundscape service has been secured through a grant from the Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national charity dedicated to enabling and empowering blind and partially sighted people of all ages to live the life they want to lead.
Soundscape can be downloaded from the app store at https://sta.ngo/soundscapeapp.