Dreamwaves 3D sound assisted navigation app helps blind people find their way around

Friday, May 26, 2023

Reading time: 3 mins

● In Vienna, Austria, a start-up founded by a Portuguese entrepreneur has developed augmented reality audio technology that, combined with a map-based guidance system, allows users to follow a route marked by audio signals.
● Powered by computer vision, the software guides users to safe, obstacle-free areas and recognizes street signs and pedestrian crossings.
● Dreamwaves has also signed a partnership with a traffic signal management company to allow users with disabilities to request priority crossing at intersections.

“See the world through your ears”: As amazing as it may sound, that’s the claim Hugo Furtado, a Portuguese entrepreneur based in Vienna, wants you to believe. Furtado, who has a PhD in augmented reality for minimally invasive cardiac surgery and is the founder of Dreamwaves, is also the developer of waveOut, an augmented reality application that aims to radically simplify the lives of the blind and visually impaired. His experience in audio engineering was the starting point that inspired him to create technology that would help those struggling to find their way around to reap the benefits of greater mobility. “We all use sound to orient ourselves,” explains Furtado, who is present at the ChangeNow fair to present the application, which is based on an acoustic navigation system. “The user selects an itinerary and then marks it with virtual ‘waypoints’. These emit 3D audio so users can hear exactly where they are as they drive along the route.” A key benefit of this type of augmented reality is that users aren’t forced to hold up their phone camera. “That might not be quite as precise, but it offers a better experience.”

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We have developed software filters to recreate the auditory sensation affected by the shape of our ears, allowing us to locate ourselves in space.

Reproducing sound as perceived by the brain

As you’d expect, these waypoints are visible on the phone’s screen, which can make orientation easier for children who can’t read maps, for example. This feature is also useful for the visually impaired who still have some eyesight. If a user takes a wrong turn, the audio will stop from the nearest waypoint before resuming at the next junction, allowing them to find their route again. To develop this technology, the Dreamwaves team conducted experiments to study how humans perceive 3D sound and how it allows us to locate ourselves in space. “We developed software filters to recreate the auditory sensation influenced by the shape of our ears, which allows us to locate ourselves in space as the sound is filtered by the anatomy of our ears and head,” stresses Hugo Furtado.

Computer Aided Vision

Dreamwaves’ approach is designed from the ground up for people who have difficulty getting around, and the application also uses computer vision. To use this feature, users must hold their smartphone up or around their neck. “Rather than detecting obstacles and telling users where not to go, our technology focuses on identifying areas where they can go safely,” emphasizes the entrepreneur. This camera use is intended to be temporary: “If you’re in a seat and it’s your turn unnoticed and you no longer have a point of reference, you can use your phone’s camera to get out of the seat” before putting it back in your pocket The Dreamwaves application implements machine learning segmentation directly on smartphones, providing a fluid computer vision experience with models trained to recognize specific elements such as street signs and crosswalks.

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Connection to traffic management systems

Dreamwaves wants to take another step towards integration into the urban environment: In the Netherlands, the company has entered into a partnership with Yunex Traffic (a company owned by Siemens). “This allows us to connect to the traffic light management systems so that our users can request priority when crossing intersections. Bike couriers can use this feature to know whether to speed up or slow down in anticipation of traffic lights, making for a smoother experience and trips with fewer stops.” This is important for Dreamwaves, which plans to sell its technology specifically to individuals, but also expects to monetize them through partnerships like the one with Yunex Traffic and also with bike courier companies. “These service providers lose revenue if their drivers keep their feet on the ground,” explains Hugo Furtado, who also hopes to sign deals with major retailers like IKEA to make it easier for the blind and partially sighted to get around their stores.