Researchers have discovered how the Microsoft HoloLens can be used to help blind people navigate their way through complex buildings.

The augmented reality headset’s primary use is to supplement what a sighted wearer can already see with a virtual interface, adding digital objects to real walls in a way which blends the real world with computer software.

To do this, the HoloLens uses cameras and an onboard computer to understand the world around it, recognize objects, and build a digital map of its surroundings. But now, researchers from the California Institute of Technology have used this to help direct the visually impaired through complex buildings.

Blind man is directed through a building with the HoloLensCalifornia Institute of TechnologyThe headset asks wearers to “follow me”, and because HoloLens uses spatial audio — where sounds can be made to come from a specific direction and distance — the voice can be placed exactly where the person should be walking. The HoloLens then recognizes corners in corridors, and tells the wearer when they are approaching a staircase. It even tells them where the handrail is, and if there is one available on both sides of the stairs, by using object recognition.