Microsoft is reportedly working on a new wearable device – but it’s not what you think. While rumors have been circulating for months that Microsoft is working on a smartwatch, a new report has revealed that Microsoft’s first wearable will actually be a band worn around the head to help blind people navigate their surroundings.
According to the Sunday Times, the band – called the ‘Alice band’- “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.”
The Alice band is part of a project Microsoft has been working on with the with the Guide Dogs for the Blind in a Cities Unlocked project, a part of the government-backed Future Cities Catapult in the UK. It’s one of seven “Catapults” launched by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board, which has a goal of developing world-leading innovations in specialist areas.
The project is still in research and testing stages, and there aren’t many other details about the Alice band. In 2012, Guide Dogs explained the concept in a video which was produced in part with Microsoft UK. Since then, the project has been relatively quiet, garnering recent press in the UK as the the band is slated to be shown to Queen Elizabeth on Thursday.
While this may be the first wearable Microsoft actually develops, it won’t be the first to hit retail shelves; the Alice band is part of a research project, so it won’t be made commercially available. As this wearable has the potential to change millions of lives for the better, it’s too soon to say that Microsoft is working on its own answer to Google Glass – at least, not yet. By successfully developing and implementing this technology, however, Microsoft is positioning itself to become a dominant player in this niche as soon as it sees potential for mainstream success.
It’s a smart strategy for Microsoft, and one that may pay off well not only for the company’s reputation, but also wearable strategy in the next few years to come.