Contrary to rumors, Alice Band – Microsoft’s wearable headband that can communicate with smart devices, is not a “Google Glass killer.”
The device is, instead, an experiment in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s government to develop a wearable device that helps blind people navigate the urban environment much like a guide dog would.
The project will be shown to Queen Elizabeth on Thursday and is part of the UK’s Future Cities Catapult, a non-profit endeavor to build technologies to help people in a city of the near-future. Thus Alice Band is not a commercial project and Microsoft assures that it is not meant as any kind of competition for Google Glass.
The UK’s Technology Strategy Board launched seven Catapult projects, including this one, with a one billion British pound investment over the next five years. Each of the Catapult projects is aimed at a specific need in the near-future or current urban environment.
Currently, the Microsoft-led project for Alice is in the “user experience” stage where sample devices are recording information from testers who’re wearing them as they navigate the environs around London and other cities in the Kingdom. Most of the testers are vision impaired and the data collected includes locations, modes of transport, stress levels (biofeedback), obstacles, weather and traffic conditions, etc.
Using this information, developers will be able to build intelligent software that can give the wearer prompts about their environment taken from various sensors and cameras mounted on the device and on the streets of the city being navigated. The goal is to offer a device that can function in a way similar to a guide dog, thus allowing the user to move about freely without the distractions and added workload a dog can bring.