New tech for blind people narrates surroundings, leaves ears open

A new app called Autour promises to be the equivalent of “neon signs for blind people” according to its designer.

Autour app already helping people in major Canadian cities, working towards U.S. expansion

Autour advises users of their surroundings in a more user-friendly way than other apps on the market. (The Associated Press)

A new app called Autour promises to be the equivalent of "neon signs for blind people" according to its designer.

It describes itself as an eyes-free mobile system that relays information to the user in a much easier way to understand than the other products on the market.

Autour designer Jeremy Cooperstock said a number of users have told him about the difference it's made in their lives.

"The wife of one of the testers said, 'You know, you always ask me when we're walking down the street: what's on my right, what's on my left, what's over there.' Now you can see for yourself," Cooperstock told CBC Montreal's Homerun.

Using GPS technology, the app voices what a person would see in their vicinity — for example, a bank on their right or a bus stop on their left.

Bone conduction headphones are recommended so the ears remain free to hear. The special headphones sit near the ear but not over it and vibrate sound to the inner ear.

The project started in 2009 and Cooperstock said the testing and refining was the most time-consuming part of the getting the app ready for market.

Autour is free on iTunes and available now in Montreal as well as in more than a dozen major Canadian cities. The team is hoping to expand to the U.S. soon.

with files from Molly Kohli, CBC Montreal's Homerun