Microsoft's wearable Alice band is not a rival to Google Glass

Microsoft's wearable Alice band is not a rival to Google Glass

Summary: Microsoft is working on a wearable 'Alice band' that helps blind people to navigate the urban environment, but it's a research project for a UK government-backed Future Cities Catapult, not a commercial development.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Microsoft is working on a wearable "Alice band" that helps blind people to navigate their surroundings. It has received some publicity in the UK, partly because Queen Elizabeth will see the project in Reading on Thursday. However, it's part of a research project, not a commercial development. It's not Microsoft's answer to Google Glass.

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Microsoft is working with Guide Dogs for the Blind in a Cities Unlocked project, which is part of the government-backed Future Cities Catapult. This is one of seven "Catapults" launched by the UK's Technology Strategy Board, with the aim of developing world-leading innovations in specialist areas. The Catapults represent a £1bn investment over five years.

The Microsoft project is aimed at helping blind and partially sighted people to get around, including by public transport. This starts with "understanding the user experience", which includes tracking testers and building "anxiety maps" of their stress levels.

According to a report in The Sunday Times (Smart Alice to change city life): "The device works by bouncing information from sensors mounted on any item such as buildings or train carriages to a receiver in the wearer's headband. In Reading it is helping blind people to find their way around a warren of staircases, escalators and ticket barriers at one of Britain's busiest commuter stations and use services at banks and shops."

While there are few tangible details, Guide Dogs illustrated the concepts in a video, A Family Day Out, produced with Microsoft UK and others in 2012. This shows a user receiving information via an earpiece. A more recent video explains the Cities Unlocked project.

The long-term aim is to improve the urban experience for all users. Future Cities says: "Our Catapult is all about urban innovation. In particular, we're focused squarely on the challenge of urban integration — how cities can take a more joined-up approach to the way they plan and operate. To improve quality of life, strengthen their economy and protect the environment."

Future Cities is looking at how urban living could change in the next 50 years. On June 26, it published its first working papers, including Living in the City (PDF).

The Future Cities Catapult is still looking for "cities, business, academia and international institutions" to get involved.


Topic: Microsoft

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • Microsoft have been producing movies like this for years.

    To be honest, I'm not impressed. Microsoft isn't going to develop this technology. I saw a "futuristic" movie made by Microsoft a several years ago at a TechNet seminar, where it highlighted Microsoft's vision of personal and professional computing. A lot of the movie focused on automated functionality powered by Microsoft. Reflecting back at it today, all it was was a special effects film because all Microsoft did was re-brand and reboot all their products. I know for a fact that all the "testimonial" commercials Microsoft uses in their commercials are all actors.
    • Sure thing Victor, sure thing.

      by the way, are you an actor, yourself? I only ask because...
    • And your point?

      Yes, commercials are not documentaries. We know that.
      Buster Friendly
    • Only if you're blind...

      If you're blind, then it's sad that you're not impressed because this technology is designed to help you. If you're not blind, your opinion doesn't matter at all!

      And obviously, Queen Elizabeth II will not travel to Reading just to watch a Microsoft produced movie. She will be going there to watch a demonstration of the technology.

      So your on rambling about a movie is ridiculous. Can you be any more troll-like?
  • give a new meaning to 'Bring Alice with you...'

  • Well... It's not like Google Glass needs a competitor

    Looking at their sales and the tepid interest in it, I think that Google is their own worst competitor in that area...
  • Does it come with a pair of red shoes...

    ...and a cute fluffy little dog?
    • That's Dorothy, not Alice

      Dorothy comes with the red shoes. Alice comes with red pills....

  • How ironic

    MS is creating a device to help keep blind people enough from walking into busy traffic, while Google has created a device that will distract sighted people enough to walk INTO busy traffic..
    • You're Right.

      People distracted by electronic devices have been around since the first Palm Pilot, but you're right, judging by Kin, Zune, and WP sales, no pedestrians are being distracted by MS devices.
      • Really?

        Really? Lame.
        Buster Friendly
      • @anothercanuck

        Just got to laugh sometimes.
      • Oooo. Heaven forbid

        someone mentions a Google product in an unflattering way, then it's "defend the hive!"

        Sometimes the stories just lend themselves to a humorous point of view.

        No need to get all defensive....