Microsoft, in partnership with the charity Guide Dogs, created the headset to help the blind navigate the confusing streets of big cities.

Not Impossible Now has featured some amazing technology for the blind community in the past month. From a teenager’s wearable device for the newly blind to a batsuit for the blind, these tools may someday help improve the lives of the visually impaired.

With that in mind, I thought I’d look back at a headset for the blind that was tested in England last fall. The prototype headset, designed by Microsoft in partnership with the charity Guide Dogs, was created to help the blind navigate the confusing streets of big cities across the world. While it will never be able to replace the many benefits the blind receive from their guide dogs, it could truly open up the world for them and allow them to move freely across even the busiest of cities.

The headset pairs with a Windows phone and uses a set of beacons that are placed around the city, according to Microsoft. Using a series of audio cues and voice turn-by-turn instructions, it helps guide the blind across the city while avoiding any obstacles such as street lamps and bus benches that they might encounter.

Eight visually impaired people tested the headset last fall and five said felt more confident with the device, the BBC News reported.

“We want to live like normal people,” Kirstie Grice, one of the testers, told the BBC News. “We don't always want to plan ahead to see if we can get community transport or a taxi or something, we want to be able to just jump on a bus and go somewhere and have that freedom.”

However, the headset does face a few obstacles. The system relies on beacons installed around a city that could greatly increase the cost and make it difficult for many cities to set up.

But one cannot deny the potential of this new system, though. During my first few years of medical school, I was lucky enough to work on a project with Dr. Mark Humayun, who developed the world’s first artificial retina. An accomplishment like this doesn’t happen overnight. I found out firsthand from Dr. Humayun about all the hard work it took to get FDA approval. 

There’s no doubt that more hard work will be in store Microsoft and Guide Dogs with their headset, too. But with continued tests and support from Future Cities, the headset could one day help the blind navigate even the busiest of cities just like everyone else.

Top photo courtesy of Microsoft