For the visually impaired, public transport can be a serious challenge. From purchasing a ticket from a machine at a metro station to locating a bus stop, everyday tasks that so many of us take for granted can be next to impossible without assistance.
In Barcelona, a programme implemented by Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB), the public transport service, is making the city easier to access and navigate for its thousands of visually impaired citizens.
NaviLens is a system of brightly coloured sticker cards that are strategically placed around public transit areas in Barcelona’s 2,400 bus stops and 159 metro stations.
When paired with a smartphone, the stickers act as a modern incarnation of QR Codes, giving step-by-step instructions to navigate public transportation with confidence. But unlike QR codes, users don’t need to know exactly where a tag is located to be able to read it. The remarkable technology uses a powerful algorithm based on Computer Vision that makes it capable of detecting multiple markers up to 12 metres away, within milliseconds, even in full motion without needing to focus the phone’s camera.
Users simply scan their surrounds with their smartphone, triggering audio cues that help them place the NaviLens tag in the phone’s field of view. A shake of the wrist activates further information, with an audible message instructing the user how many metres they are from an exit or an elevator, for example, and in which direction they should go. As the user walks closer, the audible instructions continually update.
The system is currently available in 18 languages including English and French – making it popular with the city’s tourists.
Elsewhere around the world, cities are exploring new technology and new methods of helping blind and partially blind people feel more independent.
The Roads and Transport Authority's (RTA) in Dubai recently announced it would release a Braille version of its nol travel card with embossed letters, making it easier for visually impaired people to distinguish it from other cards, along with a bluetooth mobile phone app that uses artificial intelligence and an algorithm, enabling visually impaired to use their mobile phones to navigate public transport.
In Poland’s capital city, “Virtual Warsaw” is a smart city project based on Internet of Things technology. It uses a network of beacon sensors that send people real-time information about their surroundings to their phones via Bluetooth, helping assist the visually impaired to move around independently.