A new smartphone app is helping people who are blind or visually impaired experience the world around them in more detail than ever before.

Autour, developed at McGill University in Montreal, combines data from Google and social media with ambient sound to generate a description of businesses, landmarks and services near the user.

“We deliver to the blind users the directional sense of where things are located, simply by the way they hear it arrive at their two ears,” said Jeremy Cooperstock, one of the app developers.

And those who have tried the app say they are taking note of things they would have otherwise missed.

“Unless you smell, like, the bakery or unless you hear people walking into a store or a shop, you don’t necessarily know that there’s a shop there,” said Mike Ciarciello, one of the testers for the app.

Autour, which is the French word for “around,” is described by its creators as an “eyes-free mobile system” and is the first app of its kind to be developed in Canada.

While there are other mobile GPS navigation services available for the blind, creators say Autour is aimed at helping users navigate based on the detailed information about their surroundings also used by sighted people, instead of simply providing turn-by-turn instructions.

“Our goal is to use ambient audio to reveal the kind of information that visual cues such as neon signs provide to sighted users,” the developers said on the app’s website. “Once users notice a point of interest, additional details are available on demand.”

Ciarciello and other testers say Autour can’t replace a cane or a guide dog, but the app does provide an enhanced experience of the world that inspires confidence and independence.

“When we’re looking for a specific place like a drug store, we don’t have to count doors anymore,” said Lucio Dintino, another tester.

Autour is now available to download, for free, from the Apple App Store and can be used in major cities across the country.

The iOS app runs on iPhone 4s or more recent version. Developers say they are currently working on an Android version.

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Kevin Gallagher