A pioneering augmented reality (AR) app, developed by a French start-up, is revolutionizing the navigation experience for individuals with visual impairments. By combining high-precision GPS tracking and spatial "3D sound," this innovative application offers an intuitive and practical solution to guide visually impaired individuals through city environments. With its commitment to accessibility and inclusivity, the start-up aims to empower people with visual impairments and bridge the gap in existing wayfinding technologies.
The current reality for blind or visually impaired individuals attempting to navigate cities like Paris often involves facing challenges as soon as they exit a subway station. To address this issue, two enterprising French engineering students have designed an AR navigation app that not only determines the most efficient route but also utilizes "spatial sound" to provide directional guidance.
Nathan Daix, Co-founder and CEO of SonarVision, the start-up behind the app, explained, "We're trying to make something very simple where you get the 3D sound from the correct direction. You turn in the direction that the sound is coming from, and then you're good to go."
While the app is currently in development and testing, the ambitious start-up plans to make it available by 2023. Initially functioning in Paris, the prototype can be easily adapted for other major European capitals. SonarVision's project has received support from CentraleSupelec, its engineering school's start-up incubator, which provides testing facilities, funding, entrepreneurial coaching, and access to a network of researchers and alumni.
Existing wayfinding apps such as Google Maps and Apple Maps often fall short in meeting the specific needs of visually impaired individuals, as they lack precision and compatibility with screen readers. Daix highlighted the frustrating problem of imprecision in GPS, which can result in users being directed to the wrong location, even in close proximity to their intended destination. SonarVision seeks to address this issue by leveraging the phone's camera and AR technology to scan buildings and compare them to an extensive database, ensuring highly accurate geo-tracking within a range of 20 centimeters to one meter.
While the app does not incorporate real-time obstacle detection, it serves as a complementary tool to white canes, guide dogs, or other assistive devices used by individuals with visual impairments. However, SonarVision recognizes the potential of LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology to enhance navigation for visually impaired individuals. LiDAR can scan the environment for obstacles, including those at head or body level. Although SonarVision has experimented with LiDAR on the iPhone 12 Pro, the start-up aims to prioritize affordability and accessibility, making its technology available to a wider audience.
The development of this groundbreaking AR app aligns with the vision of a global society committed to inclusivity and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By empowering individuals with visual impairments to navigate cities independently, it contributes to SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, promoting inclusivity and equal access to services for all. Additionally, the app embodies the principles of SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, as it leverages technology and innovation to improve the lives of vulnerable populations.
This achievement highlights the role of civil society in driving sustainable and inclusive solutions. The collaboration between SonarVision, CentraleSupelec, and other start-ups addressing societal and environmental challenges exemplifies the power of partnerships and collective action. By infusing purpose and social impact into their ventures, this generation of entrepreneurs demonstrates their dedication to creating a better future.
The AR app developed represents a significant milestone in empowering visually impaired individuals to navigate urban environments. By harnessing the potential of "3D sound" and AR technology, the app provides a user-friendly and intuitive solution for independent navigation. This innovation aligns with the vision of a global society committed to inclusivity and the SDGs, contributing to reduced inequalities and leveraging technology for social good. Through collaboration and a focus on sustainability, SonarVision and its partners exemplify the transformative power of civil society in creating a more accessible and equitable world.
More information: https://www.sonarvision.fr