Smartphone App Overhauls New York City Public Transportation for the Blind

The QR code installed in bus stations 7 photos
Photo: MTA
NaviLens mobile appNaviLens mobile appNaviLens mobile appNaviLens mobile appNaviLens mobile appNaviLens mobile app
It’s no longer a secret that technology can make our lives easier, and when it comes to blind and low-vision people, simple things like smartphones sport accessibility features that certainly come in handy on several occasions.
And beginning this week, smartphones can be used to find bus stops and learn of arrival times on the 23rd Street in Manhattan, all as part of a pilot program launched by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Transit Innovation Partnership.

A mobile application called NaviLens makes the whole thing possible thanks to an advanced algorithm that looks for visual indicators that could help find the location of a bus stop more accurately. The application, which is available on both Android and iPhone, can convert all these signs into audio guidance provided to the user and can offer information regarding the distance to the stop, when the next bus is scheduled to arrive, and even receive instructions to get on the bus when it opens its doors.

If more advanced technology is available, such as sensors installed on the bus, the application can tell the user how crowded it is.

The local authorities will place seven-inch QR codes on bus stops, and the mobile app can detect them from up to 40 feet (12 meters) away and at an angle of up to 160 degrees. NaviLens has been designed in such a way that the user doesn’t have to point the camera directly at the QR code, so it recognizes it even if it’s not in focus.

The code does not have to be in focus for app detection and will direct the user by providing audio directional cues including distance and angle from code such as ‘25 feet away, straight,’ ‘right,’ etc., solving the ‘last-few-yards wayfinding problem’ for the blind in which GPS technology does not guide to a destination’s exact location,” the MTA explains in a press release (embedded below).

If the pilot program proves to be successful, support for the application and the QR codes could then be expanded to more locations in New York.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
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Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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