Learning about and participating in the social and conversational body language used by sighted people are among the challenges of growing up with a visual impairment. PeopleLens is a Microsoft research project that helps the user stay aware of the locations and identities of the people around them, promoting richer and more spontaneous interactions.
A sighted person looking around a room can quickly tell who is where, who is talking to whom, and other basic information useful for many social signals and behaviors. A blind person, however, may not know who has just entered a room or if someone has just looked at them to prompt them to speak. This can lead to isolation and antisocial behaviors, such as avoiding groups.
Microsoft researchers wanted to study how technology could help a child who was blind from birth to access this information and use it in a way that suited him. What they built was PeopleLens, a smart set of software tools that run on a set of AR glasses.
Using the glasses’ built-in sensors, the software can identify known faces and indicate their distance and position by providing audio cues such as clicks, chimes, and spoken names. For example, a small bumping noise will sound whenever the user’s head points in the direction of someone, and if that person is within about 10 feet, it will be followed by their name. Next, a set of rising tones help the user direct their attention to the person’s face. Another notification will sound if someone nearby is watching the user, and so on.
The idea is not that someone would wear a device like this all their life, but would use it as a learning aid to improve their awareness of other cues and how to respond to them in a prosocial way. . It helps a child develop the same kinds of non-verbal skills that others learn with the benefit of sight.
Right now, PeopleLens is really an experiment, although the team has been working on it for a while. The next step is to bring together a cohort of learners in the UK aged 5-11 who can test the device over a longer period of time. If you think your child might be a good match, consider enrolling on the University of Bristol Microsoft Partner study page.