App trials 'virtual assistant' to help blind navigate transport


Transport for London (TfL) and partners including the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have teamed up to trial an app designed to help blind or partially sighted customers navigate stations on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).

The trial of NaviLens will take place at Cutty Sark, Canary Wharf, Woolwich Arsenal, and Tower Gateway DLR stations for six months Other partners include KeolisAmey Docklands, operator of the DLR and GoMedia, a subsidiary of Icomera.

NaviLens is designed to enable blind and partially sighted people to access information and interact with their environment, particularly in busy areas like train stations.

The technology has seen successful deployments in New York, Barcelona, and Los Angeles and is used beyond transport, for example on some Kellogg’s packaging, to provide ingredient information.

It is based on image recognition using augmented smart codes (pictured), placed along designated customer itineraries, and a smartphone app that provides voice guidance.

Once the smart codes have been scanned using the app, users can benefit from the help of its augmented reality voice assistant, which can give a description of a physical element, guidance indications and real-time DLR arrivals and departures.

TfL said the technology could also support those hampered by language barriers, or passengers unfamiliar with London as the app can transmit the information encapsulated in the smart codes in 33 different languages.

RNIB head of inclusive design Robin Spinks said: ‘Navigating train and light rail stations can be a very daunting and anxiety provoking experience for people living with blindness or partial sight.

‘As someone who is registered severely sight impaired, I can struggle to navigate around train stations as the signs are often inaccessible to me. I don't want special treatment; I just want access to the same information that everyone else takes for granted.

‘RNIB is delighted to be involved in this partnership, where NaviLens technology is enabling more confident, independent travel for people like me.’

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