Collision of Conversations Part 2-Soundsight

In our previous post, we concluded that nobody had really ideated SoundSight all alone… no solitary genius working on an ingenious solution, no hero. A collision of honest and upfront conversations about existential experiences and a research of numerous solutions that had yet to be exploited in a certain context, rethinking their business models.

At this point, SoundSight was a completely new initiative. A virtual gym to train echolocation, and while the idea of features and UX design accumulated quickly, the team pursued a proof-of-concept and something that others could think of as a minimum viable product.

The first prototype was a mess. To the users invited to a test, it must have seemed unbelievable how a software engineer could have thought that a piece of software reverberating in a fixed environment and artificial sound would have been enough to suggest how the platform would work. Not to mention, a command line interface, and a rather lengthy procedure to change the position within the simulated environment. But thanks to the outgoing and always positive outlook of Irene, they never thought of disinvesting: SoundSight was an experience for them.

The team worked hectically on Irene’s feedbacks, and a really workable proof-of-concept finally became available around Spring 2015.

Let’s leave it again to Irene’s recollection:

Irene: “Hello Mario[1], we are here again… this time I promise you will be impressed”

Mario: “Hi Irene, it’s a pleasure… and rest assured, last time I was already impressed, although maybe not as you hoped for… with my friends we have been laughing a lot about your engineer’s idea of a prototype!”

Irene: “Oh no, Mario… don’t abuse him, or who knows when we will find another person with the same talent and will to do something meaningful even with no immediate profit in sight! I am counting on you to keep certain things”

Mario: “Don’t worry Irene, I have only told the story to one or two… hundreds of people… ahahah!”

Irene: “Doh! …ok Mario, then to pay you back, today’s text will be extra tough!”

Mario: “I am ready for the challenge!”

Irene sets up the simulation

Irene: “OK Mario, it’s ready. I would like to ask you to try the first round without me sharing with you any information… I want you to focus on your impressions only, tell me how it feels”

Mario: “let’s start”

The simulation is run, Mario is moved to several places in a cathedral in this virtual world, and listens to the echoes of a tongue click

Mario: “Indeed there have been a lot of improvements, it is smooth now… last time it was a bit of an annoyance to have to wait for so long every time you wanted to move the position. However, listening to a prerecorded tongue click… are you sure these are simulations?”

Irene: “Yes Mario… we know it still requires a bit of imagination, but I assure you this is a real time simulation. Later during the tests, I will offer you the possibility to move the position arbitrarily, and you should notice it. It is definitely on our list of priorities to introduce real-time input of user generated tongue clicks… we are just not there yet… you are one of our very early testers, and I cannot thank you enough for that”

Mario: “Don’t, I enjoy this experience, and I really like the concept. Somehow contributing to its realization makes me proud. However, you need my honest opinions, and I think the ability to exploit the user’s own tongue click will improve the experience terrifically. I have realized that you have made me move through wide and small environments… but I haven’t been able to identify where I was.”

Irene: “That’s already quite good Mario! I have only given you one point for each environment, and you have already been able to tell something about them… you are the best! We will focus on learning curves and performances later again, can you tell me anything else about your general impressions at the moment?”

Mario: “It’s difficult to tell you more from just this… maybe we can move to the next exercise?”

Irene: “Yes, here we go. Get ready, and now I will let you walk through the environment of today, and you will hear repeated clicks… try to guess what it would be”

Just a quick run of the new scenario on the simulator

Mario: “hmmm… the smoothness has improved a lot… but I really could not tell you what it is. It seems a large environment, I have been getting away from a wall and after getting closer to another?”

Irene: “I had told you would not have an easy life, after those jokes about our engineer Mario! But you did quite well. It was a cathedral… now that I have told you, could you confirm it or would you still be doubtful?”

Mario: “Let me try to listen again”

…the simulator runs again shortly

Mario: “Yes Irene, now that I know, it could well be… I had some doubts, with no context it could have been a theater or a large gym, …”

Irene: “Indeed… now I would like you to do a few exercises… I will tell you this time what you are going to listen to, precisely, and you will have to focus on the features… later there will be a test…”

Mario: “For me or for the software?”

Irene: “For both, Mario, don’t try to escape your responsibilities”

Mario: “Ahahah”

They run the training set

Mario: “Well Irene, we will see how I perform later… but you should consider developing an interface to feed information about structures, volumes, and positions, directly to your users… it is nice to chat with you, but if you really think of this as a tool for making echolocation training accessible to anyone, the fact that you need to have by your side another person as your interface to the system doesn’t add up”

Irene: “You are right. Together with the real-time acquisition of users’ clicks, this interface is at the top of our list of priorities. We are thinking of using a simple tablet of mechanically executed needles to offer a map of the space being tested and a natural interface… or some haptic 3D interface, but that may be more expensive and complicated. We have not yet looked into that enough”

Mario: “You would need a lot of needles to offer a useful interface… you can try prototyping something quick maybe with Arduino… but I would be a lot more curious about the haptic interface. I have seen some applications with holograms and they looked impressive.”

Irene: “We will keep this in mind. Of course, we need to make it as simple and cheap as possible, but still functional… and we hope the prices of that hardware will be democratized soon. Now that we have taken a small break…”

Mario: “What break? Are you not letting me off yet?”

Irene: “Mario, let’s just take the test before the coffee… I will let you off then, for today”

Mario: “Ok, ok… a no is not possible anyway, isn’t it?”

Irene: “It’s always possible, but I will insist with a smile”

They run the tests

Irene: ”if we compare today’s performances to those from the last tests, both with the software and in the lab with the moving panels, you have really gotten better Mario!”

Mario: “But Irene, how can I be sure if I have truly learned? I mean… we should arrange tests where there are coupled with some sort of benchmark… maybe similar tests in real world, you could imagine a mobile lab to do so… or even just arrange competitions among users”

Irene: “That’s a really good idea, Mario! We will seriously reflect on how to arrange this, but for the time being… do you think your partner would like to try it out against you?”

Mario: “But she sees…”

Irene: “it should not be an advantage, and I promise you I will not show her the screen”

This is now a different story… but after being initially baffled, Mario’s partner took it to her heart to seriously compete with him, and in the end, she won one of the tests, confirming anyone can learn this skill.

1 Please be reminded that Mario is a blind guy. However, the language of sight is so ingrained in our culture…