Oh music where art thou

Audio navigation

A smartphone application to navigate in urban environments based on 3D-audio was developed. By using the difference in volume between the detection of sound in both human ears, the concept involved producing sound or music that seemed to come from a certain direction, leading the user to that perceived fictional source of sound. The project started as a broad study about using sound for general navigational purposes. Later, the concept was implemented in a prototype and evaluated through a series of user tests. The application can be downloaded here (Android).

This project was a collaborative effort with Daniel Tetteroo, Tanya Zavialova and Matthijs Zwinderman at the Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands in 2011. My contribution to the project related to brainstorming, user testing, concept design, wireframing, UI design and visual design.

To validate the initial concept, the team developed a series of tests and a working prototype. The goal of the tests was to verify how natural navigating with sound is. In the first test, the users were blindfolded to isolate the audio navigation and later tests were done without blindfold to get a more realistic view. Later, we developed a first android prototype to validate the technical details of the concept and to test how users reacted to a more concrete implementation. Feedback was positive and the prototype was used to fine-tune the workings and develop it into a working app.

A simple home screen was chosen for the app with a distinct separation of navigation and selection of music. By pressing the central button on the home screen, the user could pick a location to navigate to. A marker would be placed and the UI would redirect back to the home screen showing the address and the arrow pointing towards the location. The audio would at that point shift its balance, leading the user to the selected location.

When a user of the app walks or cycles to the selected location, the user would likely put the phone in his/her pocket/bag. This in many cases tilts the phone in a vertical orientation. When this happens the gyroscope becomes inaccurate and the system will only work on GPS. This is less precise but works well when walking or cycling. In this mode, the UI locks automatically. Pressing the unlock button unlocks the phone and makes the app show the arrow again using the phone’s internal gyroscope.

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