Autour is a cartographical application for the blind that has been developed at the Shared Reality Laboratory of McGill University.

It can run on the iPhone 4S and other more recent iPhones, but it does not run on the iPad or the iPod Touch.

Autour has several modes : the tilt of the device allows you to choose between two of the modes, a horizontal one and a vertical one. By default, the vertical mode is Radar sweep mode, and the horizontal mode is the Beam mode. On top of this, you have the following modes : Shockwave, Browse, Tutorial, Menu, and a mode that just waits for GPS lock. In any horizontal and vertical mode, you can tap the screen twice quickly to hear the address where you are, the status of sensors, and also a summary of places around you. While that is spoken, you may interrupt by tapping the screen once or by tilting the device.

Radar Mode

This is one of the two kinds of Sweep Modes. Point the device up with the screen facing toward you, then touch the screen. This will start an automatic sweep. You will hear a ticking sound indicating the progress of the scan around you clockwise, along with the names of the places around you. There are 48 ticks per turn, equally spaced around you, but not equally spaced in time, because saying the name of a place slows the sweep down. To pause a sweep, touch the screen again. Slide a finger from right to left to hear a detailed version of the last place you have heard, telling you its distance and direction. Slide again to hear the previous place in the history, or from left to right to hear the following place in the history. If you go past the oldest spoken place in the history or past the most recent, a tone will play instead. To stop hearing about a place, touch the screen. While the Sweep mode is doing nothing, you can continue the sweep by touching the screen.

Beam Mode

Tip the phone so the screen is facing up. You can activate and deactivate the beam in the same manner as in Sweep modes, and you can go through history in the same manner as in Sweep modes too. When the beam is activated, the history is erased then the places that are approximately in the direction of the device are enumerated in order of increasing distance. If you turn the device sufficiently in a clockwise or counterclockwise way, the history will be erased again, the new direction of the device will be chosen as the reference, and the places will be enumerated in that approximate direction instead.

Standby Mode

When GPS does not work well, Autour chooses this mode instead of any other horizontal and vertical mode, until the GPS works again. The only thing allowed in that mode is the double-tap.


To enter the Menu mode, slide a finger upwards, then do as if you were in the Settings app, except that to exit, use the Back button, not the Home button. Instructions about settings are found directly in the Settings menu or its sub-menus, in the same way as in the Settings app. There, you will find additional instructions appearing below each control to which they refer. The About menu contains various texts, such as this manual, as well as the possibility of retrying the interactive tutorial. Unlike the first time, the tutorial can now be interrupted by pressing the main button then going back into Autour. The Other menu contains means of accessing applications Transit App, Google Maps, Apple Plans, as well as of going see our webpage and writing us email.

Shockwave Mode

In the Settings, go to the Sweep mode selector, and select Shockwave. Then leave the menus and tip the phone as you would in Radar mode. The Shockwave mode is identical to the Radar mode, except for the following aspects. Instead of sorting by direction, this mode sorts by distance, therefore the sweep is done as a circle that starts where you are and grows until the maximum distance specified in the settings, and at that moment, a new sweep starts in the same manner.

Browse Mode

In Settings, go to Horizontal mode and select Browse. Then leave the menus and tip the phone as you would in Beam mode. To play the the place closest to you, swipe a finger to the right. Swiping to the right again will get you to the next place in the list ordered by distance. Swiping to the left will get you to the previous place in the list. A tone will play whenever you try to go past the end of the list or before the beginning.

Other notes

Please note that the place information from the phone GPS and compass can be unreliable. Do not rely on Autour for navigation or safety; it does not replace a cane or guide dog. If the GPS signal is poor, Autour will stop announcing places and play a quiet wobble noise periodically while waiting for a better location fix. If the compass accuracy degrades, places will be spoken with north, south, east or west directions rather than a position such as front right. To recalibrate the compass, move the phone in front of you in a figure eight pattern, with the screen pointed up toward the sky. Autour works poorly in areas where the sky is blocked by tall buildings, which causes the GPS to provide poor location information. This is difficult to fix, but you can try holding the phone so it has the best possible view of the sky.

If your area has good Foursquare™ data, we strongly recommend setting Autour to use their information, as it is often much more relevant than that from Google Places. This is primarily because it can be better ranked by checkins and reviews, meaning you are more likely to hear about locations that other people like. That said, Google Places is more comprehensive.

Note that the information from the Google Places or Foursquare™ databases can contain errors. If you want them corrected, contact the responsible company by the appropriate means.

Autour does not work in a moving vehicle, and will simply stop playing locations. This is partly because of server response time - our current server cannot return results fast enough to keep up. But it is also because the modes of Autour are not designed in function of a fast-moving user. If you would like to see a version of Autour that supports car and bus use, please contact us so we can gauge the interest in this feature.

Finally, keep in mind that Autour is a research project and is not a commercially supported application. You can email us at with comments, suggestions, and bugs. You may also ask to participate in our research. Note that we are a research team at McGill University, and are eager to hear about problems you encounter and suggestions for new features, as well as stories about how Autour helped you.