Microsoft use beacons to unlock cities for the blind

Nov 6, 2014

Today, Microsoft unveiled a new project aimed at helping blind people enjoy more freedom in urban areas, in partnership with Guide Dogs, a charity helping the blind. The project, Cities Unlocked, makes use of Mubaloo’s MiBeacons to help guide people around urban areas.

MiBeacons beacon

Demonstrating that beacons work with Windows Phone, the system uses jaw-bone conducting technology that features an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass and GPS chip that tracks the user’s position.

The system uses location and navigation data from GPS and Microsoft Bing Maps, as well as a network of MiBeacons beacons, currently placed across Reading and Paddington station.

Cities Unlocked is a project Microsoft started in association with the government’s Future Cities Catapult and Guide Dogs. The aim is to make getting across urban areas more accessible for blind people.

“By focusing on how devices connect with the physical world around us, Microsoft has shown the need to think about how people access real world places.” said MiBeacons development director, Mike Crooks, “Technology should be an enabler for people, rather than being used for strictly commercial advantages. Beacons are a key technology for helping to connect the physical world with our digital devices. Seeing beacons being used to help people feel empowered is truly inspirational.”

The launch, which took place today, was phase one of the project. In the future, it is hoped that this type of technology can be used across urban areas and opened up to more people.

Not only will this have wide reaching benefits for blind people, but it also has the potential to let anyone access urban areas with greater ease.

GPS on mobile devices has been a huge driver for being able to help people get from A to B in cities, but GPS doesn’t reach everywhere. Though WiFi networks can be used to help people indoors, they require a connection – which is where beacons can help.

Microsoft 3D audio technology, Window phone handset

By placing beacons around cities, objects can suddenly provide their awareness to mobile devices. This means that if someone needs to get on a train or bus, beacons can be used to let them know it’s the right one to get on.

The Cities Unlocked project has received support from a number of Group Partners and advocates including Lord Chris Holmes, Barclays Bank, First Great Western, MiBeacons/Mubaloo, Network Rail, Reading Borough Council, Reading Buses and Tesco. Research partners include: Arup, CASA UCL, Helen Hamlyn Centre, University of Nottingham, IMPETUS Transport Systems Catapult University Partnership and Superflux Studio.

Check out Microsoft’s video below & some of the coverage from journalists who’ve tried it out!


BBC News – Microsoft headset to help blind people navigate cities

Engadget – Microsoft’s bone-conducting headset guides the blind with audio cues

Irish Examiner - Sight and sound: How Microsoft is using audio to help the blind ‘see’

The Telegraph - How 3D audio technology could ‘unlock’ cities for blind people

Yahoo! News - Smart headset ‘creates mental map’

Back to all articles