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Evaluation of a 3D Audio Augmented Reality Navigation App

Introduction Outdoor navigation, especially in unknown environments, is one of the biggest challenges for blind and visually impaired (B&VI) people. Finding the way on the street is not an easy task. The result is dependence, a high risk for accidents, and social isolation leading to a high socio-economic impact and a significant decrease in quality of life. At Dreamwaves, we have developed waveOut, an intuitive audio augmented reality (AR) application for orientation and navigation. We use AR to place virtual waypoints in the real world and spatial audio to hear the waypoints realistically. The users feel that the waypoints actually exist, augmenting the world with audible information and indicating the direction to follow. Our vision is that anyone can benefit from audio navigation. Too much time is spent focusing on a smartphone screen leading to visual overload. So, waveOut was created to be used by anyone. But we realize that the potential to help B&VI people and ease their navigational tasks is enormous. Due to the high complexity of the navigation task, the user interaction with the application must be as intuitive as possible. Therefore, since the very beginning, we have co-designed the app with B&VI users and leveraged their input through many iterations until our first version was widely available. Technical aspects The application is now available for iOS. We use the ARKit from Apple Inc. to implement the AR component, GPS location, and in-house machine learning methods to improve localization accuracy. We do not require any beacons or physical sensors to be placed anywhere. We also custom implemented the spatial audio rendering - also known as 3D audio. Any headphone model can be used, but we recommend models that do not cover the ears like the Bose Frames and the Sony InEar Duo or models with a transparent mode like the Apple AirPods. Usability workshop In this talk, we will mainly focus on our latest testing workshop, where the most important goals were to evaluate how much impact the app has on users' lives and uncover any significant issues with the app. It consisted of structured mini-interviews, a behavioral observation of users going to a real-work destination solely using our app, and a post-navigation interview. We included seven fully blind and one visually impaired user. Results We have received very positive feedback from all participants. Six completed the routes easily, one had technical problems and needed assistance, and one could not perceive sound direction well. The participants gave feedback on the user interface (UI) and implemented navigation. The most important points needing attention were: • Unclear feedback when the destination was reached; • Nice to have an overview of the progress of the route (i.e., waypoint four out of six); • Nice to have a route refresh button in confusing situations (i.e., unclear where to go next). This last issue was connected with location inaccuracy which we observed at times. This led to confusing feedback at the time of taking a turn. When asked how the app compares to other navigation solutions, everyone said the navigation paradigm was completely different. Participants stressed they liked that there is constant feedback on the direction to follow, as the spatial audio is always there. This was a significant improvement versus intermittent spoken instructions. Discussion The workshop results uncovered significant difficulties from late feedback during turns due to location inaccuracy. We followed the user's suggestion and implemented a route refresh button to cope with that. This helped very much in mitigating confusion. As this is a major issue, we implemented robust intersection detection using machine learning later on. We can now provide timely and accurate feedback at turns. Finally, we have also implemented many UI suggestions we got from users. This significantly improved the usability of the app.  
  • Information & Communications Technology
  • Healthcare & Rehabilitation
  • Entertainment & Recreation
  • Research & Development
  • Transportation
Audience Level
Session Summary (Abstract)
We have developed waveOut, an intuitive 3D audio augmented reality application for intuitive navigation without looking at a map. We will present the results of our latest user testing where blind and visually impaired users went to real-world destinations solely using our app.  
Session Type
General Track  
  • Blind/Low Vision
  • Independent Living
  • Information & Communications Technology (ICT)
  • Mobility
  • Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), & Cross/Mixed Reality (XR)


  • Hugo Furtado

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