According to data from the
World Health Organisation, approximately
253 million people around the world are visually impaired to varying extents. Different modes of support are made available to this group of people, including technological aid, human aid, or service animals. People who lack the ability to see are more dependent on their other senses such as hearing and touch, thus allowing them to refine these senses to a whole new level.
Based on this observation,
Microsoft and its partners have been working hard on improving AI and cognitive technology to enhance visually impaired users’ usage of their other senses, thus bridging the gap between people who can see and those who cannot. Key to such development is Microsoft’s Cognitive Services, which encompass vision, knowledge, language, speech, and hearing APIs. Successful research in these areas is essential for creating AI systems able to demonstrate human-like
Over the years, Microsoft has been investing heavily in the AI race, with many impressive milestones achieved and announced to the public to date. Under the leadership of
Satya Nadella, AI will be deeply integrated into all future ventures of the technology giant to create smart computers that can proactively perceive and meet the needs of users. Some examples of Microsoft’s AI developments include
Office, Edge, and
Cortana, as well the
Back in 2016,
Satya Nadella made a public introduction of one of the company’s software engineers,
Saquib Shaikh, at the Build Developers Conference.
Shaikh is the original developer of the prototype app which uses the company’s Vision API’s to ‘see’ the world. During the conference, the software engineer demonstrated how the app provided blind users with verbal descriptions of text, people, and even emotions. Also, a very important point which should not be missed -
Shaikh himself is blind. The prototype later became the successful
Seeing AI, which is currently available on iOS. Furthermore, the technology giant also demonstrated the benefits of inclusive hiring and how it can serve small parts of the population whose needs are frequently overlooked.
Another similar research, called
Microsoft Soundscape, is also focused on helping the visually impaired explore the world. In a nutshell, the iOS app provides useful feedback to users so they can be more aware of the environment in which they work. As a user moves around, the app will provide verbal descriptions on key points of interests. By employing 3D audio technology, the service allows "users to place audio cues and labels in 3D space". This creates the effect of the sounds originating from various points of interests, roads and buildings where a user happens to walk by. Therefore, users can enjoy their surroundings more – the app constantly shares details of interesting things around them, just like walking with a good friend. Overall, the service gives the visually impaired a whole new level of autonomy, of which they have previously been deprived.
WM Reply for more information on Microsoft’s new developments – our friendly customer service team have been professionally trained to find the right services and tools tailored to the needs of your business.