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Cities Unlocked

Cities Unlocked

Cities are inherently large and complex places that can prove difficult to navigate and stressful to spend time in, especially for those who are young, old, disabled – or simply unused to urban life. But with the correct technology, we can help everyone feel more comfortable in the city.

Too often it feels like public spaces and services – from parks to transport systems – are designed with insufficient consideration for the people they serve. Cities Unlocked was created to help fix this.

Guide Dogs and Microsoft joined forces in 2011 to improve mobility and navigation for people with sight loss, and Future Cities Catapult joined them in 2013. Throughout 2014 the project team worked towards realising one ambition: to make cities more accessible for people with sight loss.

Cities Unlocked took a holistic approach to identifying the challenges that urban environments pose for the visually impaired, and developed a demonstrator headset device in response.

The result was a new headset that allows a smartphone app to provide the wearer with 3D-soundscapes, augmenting reality to provide a richer understanding of their surroundings.

The headset was adapted using GPS, accelerometers and a compass to detect head orientation and provide spatially tailored audio, to give the wearer a better understanding of their surroundings. Currently it interacts with GPS, Bluetooth beacons and Wi-Fi along a technologically enabled route between London and Reading.


We had in our own minds that this project would work well with Microsoft, we were delighted when the Future Cities Catapult came along, but we are absolutely astounded by how many large organisations – transport providers, retailers, and others – who want to get involved in this project.

– Richard Leaman - CEO of Guide Dogs for the Blind

Testing demonstrated that the technology helps people feel more comfortable in their surroundings and better placed to navigate their environment. The extensive user testing and collaboration demonstrated the importance of using both data and human insight in developing urban innovations.

Many additional opportunities for improving the experience of cities for people with sight loss were identified through the project research, you can read more about them in the Cities Unlocked Report.

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