AcoustiMap We will develop a navigation assistance device for blind users. It will consist of an auditory display that places sound sources in three-dimensional space around the user, a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit with a map database, and a Dead Reckoning Module to provide precise location and orientation in three dimensions. All three components use proven, commercial products. Users will be able to listen to existing audio landmarks or place their own waypoints. This device will be the first to implement such an auditory "augmented reality" for the blind. We propose a novel analytic auditory display which builds on established research that offers substantial improvements over established displays. Loomis and other researchers have experimented for many years with auditory displays as an information conduit for blind users. The ability to synthesize virtual audio landmarks and include them with real audio landmarks (say, a water fountain) gives users unprecedented control over their auditory landscape. Both blind and sighted users have found the auditory display more effective and easier to use than either haptic displays or voice directions. In Phase 1, we will build a prototype auditory display. This will use published experimental results, implementing Interaural Time Difference and Interaural Level Difference to encode azimuth information, and direct-to-reverberant sound ratio to encode range information. Using the prototype, we will perform several experiments to validate the operation of the earphones, auditory display, and head tracker. We will use both sighted users wearing blindfolds and blind users. They will verify that the technology not only provides valuable navigation information but also avoids compromising hearing the external environment.
This project combines several pieces of existing technology with a novel auditory display. Together, they will provide a virtual space of auditory cues overlaid on the physical environment, accessible to blind users in a way that have never been available before. Enabling GPS and waypoint information to blind users, through an intuitive interface, has high potential benefit.