Microsoft will retire the Soundscape 3D audio app and open source

It’s Microsoft sunset an experimental research project that uses audio-based technology to help visually impaired people navigate and gain a better understanding of their surroundings.

However, the company also revealed that it will release the code under an open source license for other developers to use.

The tech giant debuted for the first time Soundscape back in 2017, essentially aiming to help people become “more comfortable with unfamiliar places” using 3D audio cues.

The project created an iOS app in 2018 to show the results of the project so far. Using the iPhone’s built-in sensors, the Soundscape app reads points of interest as the user walks by, or notable roads and intersections that can help them know exactly where they are. It’s less turn-by-turn navigation and more “here you are now,” with users able to configure specific audio beacons to appear in locations that suit them.

While it’s common for companies to discontinue research projects that, at least for many, have shown some potential, it’s not always the case that a company releases third-party upgrade code. The company explained why it’s doing this in a Q&A detailing the project’s transition:

As we develop our research portfolio, it is natural that we terminate or transfer some projects. We think the community can benefit from the new experiences we’ve developed for the Soundscape research project, so we’re releasing the code as open source software.

As of January 3, 2023, Microsoft will remove the Soundscape app from the App Store and will release the core code on GitHub for others to pick up and run.

Existing installations of the app will continue to work until June next year.

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