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Our brief guide to NaviLens for users with sight loss explains what NaviLens can do, how to install the app and how to use it at home and out and about.

NaviLens has been designed specifically to enable blind and partially sighted people to be able to access and locate information and interact with the environment around them.

NaviLens is free and easy to use. The app works on both the Android and Apple operating systems and is completely accessible.

The app is used to get information from optical codes which can be placed on anything from buildings to packaging materials.

Each optical code, called a NaviLens code, is surrounded by a white border encompassing a smaller black border which surrounds a five-by-five grid pattern of individual squares. Each of these squares are coloured either cyan, magenta, yellow or black.

NaviLens codes can be read by a smartphone camera and do not require any power or transmit any signal. The size of the code determines how easy it is to detect; the larger the code the further away it can be detected.

By pointing your phone camera in the general direction you want to scan, the NaviLens app can recognise NaviLens codes in the vicinity. It does this without the need to focus on the code or know exactly where it is situated. Information is then presented both visually, audibly and through haptics; effectively through touch.

Information can be accessed on the move; the smartphone user can be moving, as can the code e.g. it might be a code on the front of a bus. Codes don’t have to be in front of you to be detected; cameras can detect codes in a range of 160-180 degrees and codes can provide bidirectional information when detected at an angle.

Codes can share static and dynamic information e.g. signage, points of interest and real time travel information.

NaviLens also provides distance and guidance information through visual, audio and haptic feedback, helping people find a point of interest, such as an entrance or a product.

You can easily manage how much information you receive and can even filter for specific information.

Where you will find NaviLens in use

A range of organisations and individuals use NaviLens across the world for different purposes. It is currently used:

  • To help people with sight loss independently navigate and find their way around cities and spaces.
  • By product manufacturers who have incorporated NaviLens into their packaging designs to help customers access on-pack information quickly and easily. RNIB is a founder of the PAC IOU Charter which calls on the packaging industry to embed inclusivity and accessibility into all aspects of the package design process to ensure accessible packaging for everyone.
  • By anyone with a smartphone. You can use NaviLens to create personnel codes and annotate them with relevant information, sharing the code with other friends and family.

This video explains a little more about the NaviLens app and shows how it has been used at RNIB’s London office.

Where NaviLens codes can be found

Some companies incorporate NaviLens codes into their packaging enabling customers to get product pack information, such as the product name, the form factor, ingredients, nutrition, Traffic light calorific values, recycling etc. Other companies place codes in different locations and buildings to help people get around.

For World Sight Day 2020, RNIB partnered with Kellogg's to include accessible information on cereal boxes using NaviLens codes.

Additionally, codes can help users to navigate around a building or even identify a transport stop or real time information.

Across the world, NaviLens is being used to make cities smarter and more inclusive and to allow users to interact more easily with their environment, in places such as subway stations, bus stops and museums or public buildings.

The New York Metro has more than 100 NaviLens codes in place to help customers with sight loss be more independent. Codes guide people through the subway system and provide real-time train arrival information in 24 languages. NaviLens codes can be read at a distance and with the app users don’t have to rely on GPS or having access to the internet to navigate the underground.

NaviLens is also used widely across Spain, where the app was developed. On Barcelona’s underground and bus transport system, NaviLens codes are placed on the signage, bus stops and ticket machines. In Murcia, NaviLens codes are inside and outside the busses and trams and the Archaeological Museum has used NaviLens codes to provide information on its exhibits and installations.

The app can translate the information from the original copy language automatically into the language set on your smart phone, presenting the information to you in that language, so information originally produced in Spanish is translated and presented automatically into English, or any one of 24 languages.

In London, RNIB has incorporated NaviLens codes into its head office directional signage so staff and visitors with sight loss can independently find their way around. Soon, all RNIB staff ID badges will incorporate NaviLens codes; any visitor using the app will be able to tell who is present and what their role is.

Using NaviLens at home

Through the NaviLens app on your smartphone, you can request a selection of free NaviLens codes that you can print out and annotate with your own information. You will receive a number of pdf’s via email that contain a variety of sized codes that you can use to make the environment more accessible. You could add codes to items with the same form factor such as label food in the cupboard, or add appointments onto a calendar. You can also request a code that automatically turns on the ability to navigate and locate that code.

These codes and therefore the information they contain can be shared with friends and family to also access.

  1. Open the NaviLens app and tap the “Quick Start” button in the bottom right (three horizontal lines icon).
  2. Tap “Request NaviLens codes”.
  3. You now get some information about NaviLens and a form to enter your name and email address to order your free codes.
  4. You can now request either or both free code bundles by selecting: ‘I want to receive blank NaviLens codes’ and/or ‘I want to receive the NaviLens 360 wayfinding route code’.
  5. You will receive a welcome message saying that your codes will be emailed to you soon.
  6. You will very quickly receive an email containing several PDF files with the codes of direct sizes that you will have to print out:
  7. You will need to print the PDF files and then cut or tear each code (including the white border) and stick it onto to the item you want to label. You can stick a code on using an adhesive label, sticky tape or even laminate them to make them last longer.

Don’t worry about being able to see the code. When switched on, the NaviLens app is sensitive enough to locate a code even if it is small or far away.

You just hold up your phone and scan around the room and the app will pick up the presence of any code visible in the area around you. The app will then use either tones or speech to help you navigate towards the item and read your audio aloud when you are ready.

How to annotate the code with information and audio messages

  1. Open the NaviLens app and point the camera in the direction of the code you want to add information to. The app will speak to tell you: “Blank code. Use the personal note option to complete it.”
  2. Select the code you want to annotate and tap the pencil icon (bottom of the screen third icon from the left).
  3. Tap the screen and type the message you want add to the code.
  4. Tap the tick icon in the top right when you are happy with your message and the information is updated. Tap the cross icon in the bottom left to return to the app scanning mode.
  5. When this code is scanned again it will tell you the name and distance you are from your code and read your message aloud to you.

Codes can be updated or completely changed by scanning them, tapping the message on the app screen and tapping the pencil icon to start again.

Note: Your code can only be read by you and those friends and family’s that you wish to share it with. This means anyone else using NaviLens will not be able to hear your audio message unless you give them permission.

How to use NaviLens

Once you have created a few NaviLens codes and applied them to your items, you simply open the app on your smartphone. Hold your phone up and point it in the general direction where you want to scan. Move it slowly around and when a code is detected the app will tell you the name and distance the code is away from you and will also tell you if it is to the right or left to help you navigate towards it.

Select the detected code to get more information or you can shake your phone to get the app to read the NaviLens code.

If you have several codes visible on the camera at once, when you move your phone and find a new code that is more centred than the previous one, you will hear a clicking sound indicating that this new code is the most centred. You can also filter for specific information via the ‘Filter icon (looks like a funnel second from left). Simply add what information you are looking for such as soup, and any code that contains that information will be detected, all others will be ignored.

Settings on the app

You can personalise the NaviLens app by adjusting the type of feedback the app gives you. To adjust app feedback go to “main menu”, the first button on the bottom left (three horizontal lines icon) and select settings.

  • “Location mode” allows you to choose between tones, voice instructions and haptic vibrations to help you navigate towards an item.
  • “Reading options” allows you to select when a message is read and to choose what additional information you want, like distance from an item.
  • “360 vision” allows to automatically switch to locate a code in the environment as well as adjusting this behaviour.
  • “Energy mode” has options that will help your battery to last longer when using the app.
  • “Flash mode” allows you to choose when your phone camera flash will be used.
  • “Measuring system” lets you select metric or imperial. In the UK the app defaults to imperial measurements.
  • “Hands Free” enables you to set the phone to hands free mode and turning off the screen, such as in breast pocket or camera holder around the neck.
  • “Speech synthesis” lets you adjust the speed at which the app speaks. In this option you can also choose to use a different text to speech engine if you have an alternative installed on your phone.
  • “Tactile paving guide” this enables the efficient presentation of guidance when Navilens codes are added to tactile paving intersections.

The app works on both the Android and Apple operating systems and is completely accessible.